Friday, 29 December 2017

Medronho not just a drink

The Arbutus Unedo, strawberry tree in English, seems a fairy tree or, better, the tree of snack baskets from The Wizard of Oz… it is, in itself, a magical tree because during autumn and winter it brings proudly on its branches, at the very same time, the leaves, the white flowers and  the colourful and sweetish fruit.Interestingly enough one of our guests earlier this year said our garden was a magical one.
The berries have an acquired taste. Maybe that is why it has "Unedo" in its Latin name, which means: eat only 1. The fruit and the pretty little flowers can be see all at the same time, between October and December. It takes a complete year for the berry to develop from flower to ripe fruit. First they are green, then orange/yellow and finally they turn red. The tree - or better the bush - that they grow on is evergreen and can grow up to 10 meters high. It is a member of the Ericaceae family, which makes it a cousin of the heather and bilberry.
The Medronho berries are mainly used to create the famous Algarvian Aguardente de Mendronho.
But the berries have a high pectin content, which makes them very good for preparing jams and preserves. The fruit, as well as the leaves, have been used in folk medicine for ages to treat problems like diarrhoea, arteriosclerose, kidney and bladder infections or liver diseases. The berries have many phytochemicals, including polyphenols, which are thought to reduce cancer risk, coronary heart disease en degenerative diseases. They are also rich in antioxidants such as vitamines C and E and carotenoids.
For treatment of kidney/bladder problems you can try this:
Boil a liter of water, add 20 grams of leaves and leave them there for 10 minutes. Drink a cup 3 times a day for 3 weeks. You can sweeten the tea with a little honey.
Be careful though and do not eat too many fresh berries (not in case you like the taste), but because they also contain a lot of tannins wich can give you some problems.
The Portuguese became very skilled in distilling the fruit in late winter, after weeks of fermentation, and create the famous Algarvian liqueur.
 Medronho trees grow wild on the poor soils in rural regions of Portugal and the inner Algarve.
There is no commercial plantation of the trees and the fruits are mainly collected by local farmers by hand, and processed privately. Therefore, good Aguardente de Medronhos is not easily found in supermarkets, but instead bought directly from these farmers. Very few farmers have a license for distillation, but are tolerated by the authorities to keep this traditional Portuguese specialty alive.
Aguardente de Medronhos is very popular with working people, such as farmers and fishermen, and often drunk for breakfast to wake the spirits. A commercial derivative, sweetened with honey and flavoured with herbs, is sold under the brand name Brandymel.
Aguardente de Medronhos is also known as Firewater to non-Portuguese speakers, and obtains this name from the hot sensation as the consumed beverage travels down the throat and is felt through the sinuses. And also from the fact that "água ardente" is Portuguese for burning water.
Alcohol content of the beverage can vary, however many bottles of Aguardente de Medronhos contain around 48%. The beverage is consumed in shot-glass sized portions.
Compota de medronho
(Recipe adapted from a recipe in "natureza,gastronomia & lazer" by maria manuel Valagão )
Last year was a missed opportunity. I blinked and missed the berries before the birds got them.The colour of the outside is so intense that birds  can clearly tell a ripe sweet fruit from the slightly bitter yellow ones, so this year I kept a watchful eye for them turning red.The first thing to do is turn some into jam, because even being picked directly from the tree,the berries can turn out to be damaged if not used within a few days. After you have made the jam, stretch your imagination and use in cakes, muffins, ice cream, etc.or as one might use strawberry jam.I think it would make a perfect foil for Foie Gras
500g Arbutus berries
500g of quince (marmelo),peeled cored and de-seeded
350g golden sugar (amarelo)
300ml water 
1 vanilla pod split in half
teaspoon allspice Pimenta da jamaica moida
teaspoon grated ginger
juice of 1/2 lemon
orange zest (casca de laranja) q.b 
Pick and wash arbutus berries thoroughly.Prepare the quince as above.
In a pan, place all ingredients and cook for about 1 hour.Mash the mixture down and put back on a low flame low until it reaches setting point point (117C or when the syrup falls or slides, off the back of a wooden spoon.
Remove the vanilla pods and put the still hot jam into sterilized jars. Turn the jars upside down to vacuum.

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

All the K´s Kefir Kraut Kale Kombucha and Kimchi

PREFACE: Just so the Guardian newspaper do not think I am stealing their thunder.I wrote this post a few weeks ago with the intention of posting it in the new year.The Guardian posted an article on the very same subject this last weekend which I am sharing with you alongside my post.

What is it with the K´s? All the foods that are good for our well being it seems, contain vitamin K. Green leafy vegetables, such as kale, spinach, turnip greens, Swiss chard, mustard greens, parsley, romaine, and green leaf lettuce.Also included are the brassica family,vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage.The coincidence doesn´t stop at green vegetables.Anything fermented like Kimchi and Kefir also contain vitamin K.What many people with health issues like myself do not realise that 80 percent of your entire immune system is located in your digestive tract! YES 80 percent!! That is an astounding percentage, making our digestive tract critical to our health.
In addition to the impact it has on our immune system, our digestive system is the second largest part of our neurological system. It is called our enteric nervous system and is located god forbid in our gut. This is why it is called our second brain! Many people with conditions such as thyroid imbalances, chronic fatigue, joint pain, psoriasis, autism, and many other conditions do not realize that these illnesses originate in the gut.I now realise the importance of looking after your gut."Love your gut."so how do we go about this? - PROBIOTICS. Probiotic Benefits Begin in the GUT.Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts promoted as having various health benefits.Probiotics hold the key not just for better health and a stronger immune system, but also for healing digestive issues, mental health illness, and neurological disorders.We need probiotic supplements to support what is already in the gut and fight the bad bac
terias like Heliobactor pyori.It’s how we’ve preserved food throughout human history. Microorganisms produced during fermentation are the probiotic, friendly kind, helping to regulate digestion, fight disease and optimise cell health.
In the meantime, there is certainly no harm in including fermented foods like Kimchi and Kefir in your diet. Not only does it seem likely that the more varied your intake the better, but also they are easy to digest, as some of the work has already been done for you, and they tend to have a distinctive, complex and (sometimes) challenging flavour.
Get this and some other lovely recipes from the Pastoret website
Live yoghurt is good, but kefir, a fermented milk drink that originated in the Caucasus, is even better.The sour tang of Kefir is not to everyones taste but can be made more appealing by the addition of fruit in smoothies.My personal preference is a kefir made with cows milk ( top) but goats milk kefir is also available.

Boxing day egg and bacon pie

Apparently this is Nigella´s ideal boxing day supper " to be eaten on a tray with some cornichons and a glass of beer or cider" as she slumps "perfectly contented and guiltless,in front of the television." Well never mind the seasonal schmaltz I would happily make this my guilty pleasure and eat it for any midweek supper, or even lunch or brunch.We found it was much tastier eaten cold.

For the pastry
240g plain flour
60g Trex or other vegetable shortening
60g butter
3-5 tbsp salted iced water-or enough to bind

For the filling
500g pancetta or bacon,chopped into small batons
1 medium onion,finely chopped
1 spring onion,finely chopped
approximately 2 tablespoons chopped parsley 
2 large eggs

20cm pie plate
Make the pastry by freezing the fats and flour together for 10 minutes,then tip out into the processor and blitz to a flaky rubble.Add enough iced water to bind,then form into 2 discs,cover them with clingfilm and rest in the fridge for 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 200C/ gas mark 6
Cook the pancetta or bacon in a frying pan with the onion,peppering well.Beat the spring onion,parsley and eggs together,and set aside while you roll out the pastry.
Using one of the discs,line the dish,leaving an overhang.Roll out the other half to make a lid, and set aside for one moment.transfer the pancetta and onion mixture to the pastry-lined pie plate and pour over the spring onion,parsley and eggs.With alittle cold water,dampen the edges of the pastry case and cover with the rolled out lid.Cut off excess pastry,and seal and pinch all around the rim.Make a hole in the lid to let the steam out,put in the oven and bake for 30 minutes
Sit on a wire rack until slightly above room temperature,or eat cold-
Serves 6

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Spiced party nuts,no nonsense nibbles

I am and have always been a snacker.The thespian and I  love a bowl of mixed nuts with a G ´n T just about as much as we love a good Pringle: or two.These Spiced Party Nuts were inspired by those complimentary bar nuts that seemingly disappear off of our table every time we are in one of our favourite hostelries.Out for a bebida with friends, they dont get a look in when it comes to Bombay mix,Japanese rice crackers or salted pistachios.Where there is the slightest whiff of a nibble, I´ll be there for them. I decided to bring a home made twist to the bar snack in order to let my friends have a chance.They are never going to know how many I had eaten before they arrived.
These Spiced Party Nuts are not only delicious but quite easy to make, and they will have people talking.They are not overly sweet and have just the right amount of “kick” to keep you coming back for more. I have been cultivating this recipe; and have tweaked the balance of sweet, savoury, and spicy until finally arriving at what I think is the winning combination.My favourites are a blend of almonds, cashews, pecans, and pistachios, but any old nut will do. Just make a lot.They are known to disappear quickly.The thespian nodded his head in an affirmative gesture too.As the holiday party season continues, I cannot think of a better and simpler snack to accompany your favourite winter cocktail.
They are quickly made from ingredients that most of us have on hand. So they can be made at the last-minute while you race around showering, shaving, and freshening-up anything around the house that needs febreezing before the guests arrive.
Why look for ready-made spice roasted salted nut mixes when you can make your own for a fraction of the price while at the same time controlling the amount of fat and salt? In addition, you can vary flavours to suit your own palate.This is a great time to think about spiced nuts.There are several ways to approach spiced nuts. Some recipes make a glaze with sugar, egg whites, and spices. Some use a fat like butter along with the sugar and flavorings, and others just dust roasted nuts in dry spices with a bit of olive oil.
You can use your own mix as there are unlimited possibilities.
A typical dried nuts mix might include hazelnut, almonds, walnuts, pine nuts, cashews, pecans…and coatings can be......
Olive oil,tamarind paste
Salt and pepper
Spices: Paprika, Curry, Chili flakes Chinese five spice,Dukkah, Zaatar,Ras al hanout,cajun spice mix.

Spiced Nut Blend
350g (11 oz) mixed dried nuts
1 heaped teaspoon cumin seeds
1 heaped teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon mustard seeds

1/4 tsp fennel seeds 
1/2 tsp black peppercorns 
1tsp ground turmeric
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 teaspoons Flor de sal
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to160C ( 315F )Place all the spices in a spice grinder or blender and grind to a fine powder.Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and mix through the brown sugar,nuts and two teaspoons of Flor de sal.Add the olive oil,mix well and place on a baking tray lined with baking parchment.Bake for 10-15 minutes or until the nuts have coloured a little,stirring occasionally.allow to cool.Store in an airtight container until ready to use.
You might also like:
Sumac roasted chick peas
Wasabi peanuts  
Spiced marcona almonds

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Before Yule even Know.....

Hot on the heels of Halloween its party time again.There is no time for kitchen breathers.One finds oneself hell bent on creating micro mini canapés,mood enhancing party pieces and fondant fripperies all under the umbrella of festive frosting.Don´t be afraid to be creative this Christmas,and do everything generously; this is not the time of year for restraint.
Are you sitting comfortably and feeling hygge or even còsagach? then I´ll begin.Well maybe it is cold outside but these canapés bring together flavours that may seem to some a strange partnering. These are a savoury spin on Pisang Goreng (Indonesian Banana Fritters)or Kenyan green banana chips.The combination of green Madeiran banana fritters topped with creme fraiche and a take on the Austrian dish, Verhackert,( bacon jam) works a treat.Really fresh, really tasty,really original.Try them.
Green Madeiran banana,green chilli and polenta fritters
Take into account when buying your bananas,that they have to be grated for the recipe.They should not be overripe or too unripe.

225g (8oz) semi ripe peeled green banana,grated
80g (3oz) polenta grains
1 egg
60ml(2fl oz) beer
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 cup sliced spring onions
1/4 cup fresh coriander leaves
tsp finely chopped green chilli
1 tsp Flor de sal
sunflower oil for frying
Mix all the ingredients together well except for the oil and rest for 15 minutes.heat up a frying pan and add enough oil to coat the bottom by a few millimetres.heat to smoking,then very carefully add teaspoonfuls of the mixture,a few at a time then cook for about 90 seconds each side.Stack the fritters on a  plate and allow to cool before topping each one with a dollop of creme fraiche and a teaspoon of bacon jam.
Ripe banana has a high sugar content so it can burn easily,so keep an eye and moderate the heat if necessary
Certain activities and entertainments, often involving candles, woollens, or nature, are also said to promote feelings of hygge.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Goodness gracious great balls of truffes

Sugary, soft and can sweet tooths everywhere say no to a square of homemade chocolate fudge this Christmas,but only if its made correctly.Never trust a busty British babe with a recipe for fudge.You know what I mean. I looked for an easy fudge recipe to follow and this wasn´t it.Fudge has to be sugary soft and irresistible.Oh dear Miss Lawson this recipe was not one of of your domestic triumphs. I would go as far as to say "a complete disaster, darling,” This was bitter, soft and moussey, not at all what fudge should be.The next day I tipped the whole tray back into a bain -marie and melted it again.In another pan I boiled down sugar and water and then added creme fraiche ( proper fudge should have a bit of dairy in it ) until I had a sticky toffee mixture to which I added the re-melted chocolate and condensed milk mixture.I beat it together for a few minutes before pouring back into the tray to set in the fridge.Two days later it was still soft and gooey.Oh well at least my last minute Christmas present dilemma was now sorted.I formed the supposed fudge mixture into balls and rolled them in cocoa powder and “et voilà !” j'avais des truffes!!!! oooooh la la meringue!!!!

Monday, 18 December 2017

Puff pastry days are over

Gone are the days when most canapés would traditionally have been made with either a puff or short crust pastry, but the time has come to bring a bit of glamour to your table and start thinking about dough in a new way. I have been experimenting with all different types of crusts and bases recently.Replace butter with yoghurt.Pie pastry dough made with olive oil bakes up surprisingly crispy and light, without a hint of oiliness. I recently made a pie crust recipe with vegetable shortening which was light and flakey.People are expanding their horizons, seeking new alternatives for their pies, tartlets and quiche bases - pastries such as phyllo. Phyllo is a versatile and healthy alternative to other types of dough, and is now used across the culinary board, developing far beyond the traditional baklava or spanakopita.Flaky and delicious, phyllo (also spelled filo or fillo) is delicate and can be used for appetizer and dessert recipes. It’s composed of many tissue-thin sheets of dough that, unlike puff pastry, have very little fat and at this time of year when were all trying to squeeze into our bodycon party creations thats not such a bad thing.
Phyllo dough has been with us for hundreds of years and was first developed in Istanbul, despite the assumption that it originated in Greece, as it is commonly used in their dishes, indeed the word phyllo is actually Greek, meaning “leaf”. It was originally used by chefs in the kitchens of the Topkapi Palace to make dishes for the sultan. The Greeks then adopted this pastry and adapted it to create the modern extremely paper-thin version we know today. Until 1946 phyllo was always made and rolled out by hand, where master artisan bakers would spend hours pressing and stretching the dough into its signature sheet. Then in 1946 Le Conie Stiles invented the phyllo stretching machine, allowing the production of pastry to reach a much larger commercial scale. Although chefs do still make their own phyllo by hand, this ready-made pastry enables those who do not have either the time, or ability, to enjoy experimenting with their own baking creations.Make sure you always have a packet in the fridge at all times.
makes 4
1- 2 rectangular filo sheets, depending on the size of your sheets
Leaves from 8 sprigs of fresh thyme
60 gms / 4 tbsp butter melted
125 gms / 5 oz. soft goat’s cheese
4 tsp honey

Cut the filo sheet in half lengthways, and in half crossways to make 4 rectangles measuring approximately 15x20 cm (6”x8”).
Brush the rectangles generously with butter, ensuring that about 1 tbsp is saved to brush the tops.
Sprinkle some thyme leaves along the long length of each pastry rectangle and fold it in to encase it. Crumble some goat’s cheese in a line along the opposite short side of the pastry. Starting at the goats cheese end, roll the pastry once over the goats cheese and carry on rolling all way to the thyme, sealing the join.
Repeat the process to make 4 rolls.

Place on a baking tray lined with baking paper and brush once more with the remaining butter. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 180°C – 355°F for 15-20 minutes or until golden and crisp.
Serve immediately with a drizzle of honey on top.

Friday, 15 December 2017

Sweet potato galettes -easier than pie

Christmas is nearly here and one is often hard pushed to find time to get supper on the table while ones focusing on other matters more festive.Here´s a simple seasonal supper that is on the table within the hour.The sweet potatoes can be baked in advance or even the day before,so all you have to do is assemble the galettes and pop them in the oven.The term galette typically refers to a free form tart or dough creation that is made with a crispy, flaky pasty crust. These tarts are not moulded in tart pans. Instead, the filling is placed directly on top of a sheet of rolled out puff pastry and the edges of that pastry are folded up and around the filling. The tart becomes crisp during baking and as a whole, manages to be both rustic and elegant at the same time, and is easier than pie.Sometimes there is a vegetarian in the house and this would be my suggestion for a summer vegetarian option.Sweet and spicy,baked fresh and served warm or at room temperature, this is the sort of starter that even carnivores wouldn´t turn their nose at.The generous creme fraiche base and the lightness of the flaky pastry carry the sweet potato without the risk of carbfest.Serve with a tomato and onion salad and a concoction that doubles up as a garnish for the tart and a dressing for the salad.
Sweet potato galettes
Makes 4
3 sweet potatoes,weighing about 350g each
250g puff pastry
1 free range egg lightly beaten
100ml creme fraiche
100g hard goats cheese
1 medium hot chilli,finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove,crushed
1tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
Flr de sal and black pepper
Pre-heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6
Wrap the sweet potatoes in foil and bake in the oven for 35-45 minutes until they soften up but are still slightly raw in the centre (check by inserting the tip of a small knife).
leave until cool enough to handle,then peel and cut into slices 3mm thick.
While the sweet potatoes are in the oven,roll out the pastry to about 2mm thick on alightly floured work surface. Cut out four 7x 14cm rectangles and prick them all over with a fork. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment,place the the pastry rectangles on it,well spaced apart,and leave to rest in the fridge for at least half an hour.
Remove the pastry from the fridge and brush lightly with beaten egg.Using a palette knife,spread a thick layer of creme friache on the pastry rectangles leaving a 5mm border all round.Arrange the potato slices on the pastry,slightly overlapping,keeping the border clear.Season with salt and pepper,crumble the goats cheese on top and sprinkle with the chilli.Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the pastry is cooked through and golden brown.Whilst the galettes are cooking mix together the olive oil, garlic,parsley and a pinch of salt,As soon as the pastries come out of the oven,brush them with this mixture.Serve warm or at room temperature with a tomato and red onion salad.Dress the salad with the remaining parsley mixture.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Bolo salgado com piso,tomate seco, congumelos seco e queijo feta

 Sundried tomato,dried mushroom, cheese and herb loaf
This is the time of year when our days of summer foraging and accumulating of seasonal food supplies for preservation pay us dividends. But say the word “hoarding” to most people and it will conjure up images of horrific reality TV about people who live surrounded by piles of junk.In ecological terms hoarding has a very different meaning, and refers to the practice of hiding food to be eaten later. Hoarding is a strategy used by animals and humans alike to store seasonally abundant food to eat later in the year.Caching foods in times of surplus brings meals to our tables when food is less plentiful. Stocking up on storage crops in the late summer and early autumn, and storing what your own garden has overproduced for winter eating is a great way to get local, organic food at a lower cost and higher quality than what you might find in supermarkets.If you are not so lucky as to have a fruit and veg garden,when looking for where to buy bulk quantities of food, one great place to check out is the local farmer's market, especially for tomatoes, peppers,mushrooms and even herbs. Even if you can't find cheap bulk prices, consider how much you are spending on a pound of food in summer versus how much the price will rise to in the winter. I think it's reasonable to say buying almost anything in season is going to be cheaper then buying it off season.

 Perfect store cupboard sustenance and quite festive too
Bolo salgado com piso,tomate seco e congumelos seco
(Sundried tomato,dried mushroom, cheese and herb loaf)
Na medida do possível utilize ingredientes orgânicos para esta receita
Wherever possible use organic ingredients for this recipe

250g de farinha                                      250g plain flour
3 ovos                                                     3 eggs
150ml de leite gordo                              150ml full fat milk
100ml de azeite                                     100ml extra virgin olive oil
12g levadura fresca                                12g fresh yeast dissolved in warm water
flor de sal q.b                                         Flor de sal to taste

PISO:                                                       MIXED HERBS:
1colher de cha de tomilho fresco           1tsp fresh thyme
1colher de cha de tomilho seco              1tsp dried thyme
1colher de cha oregao seco                    1tsp dried oregano
1colher de cha manjerico seco               1tsp dried basil
gordura para barrar a forma                   fat or oil for greasing the baking tin
Tomates secos q.b                                  Sundried tomatoes to taste
20g congumelos secos q.b                      20g dried porcini mushroomsto taste
Queijo feta q.b, opcional                        feta cheese to taste optional

Juntar a farinha,o Flor de sal e alevedura; adicionar os ovos um a um,misturando levemente.Juntar progressivamente o azeite,o leite e as ervas secos.,obtendo uma massa uniforme.Adicionar os tomates secos re-hidratado,cortado aos pedaços,e os congumelos secos igualmente re-hidratos e picados grosseiramente.Desmonte o feta na mistura se estiver usando.Deitar a massa numa formade bolo ingléspreviamente barrada e polvilhada de farinha.Vai o forno a 210C durante 35-40 minutos.
Deixe esfriar em uma grade de arame até estar pronto para servir. Você pode adaptar esta receita e usar a massa para fazer muffins de mini molho de cocktail.

Mix together the flour, Flor de sal and the yeast.Add the eggs one by one,mixing them in lightly.Bit by bit mix in the olive oil and then the milk followed by the herbs.Mix well until you have achieved a well combined dough.Stir in the sundried tomatoes and dried mushrooms,chopped in small pieces.Crumble the feta into the mix if using.Tip the dough into the previously greased bread pan and bake in an oven heated to 210c for 35 to 40 minutes.Cool on a wire rack until ready to serve.You can adapt this recipe and use the dough to make mini cocktail muffins.

Friday, 8 December 2017

A cure for Christmas,gammon you can do it

Ham it up: a whiff of home cure wafts across your neighbourhood.There’s a fast-growing trend to smoke, pickle or dry-cure your own festive food.Come the festive season eating becomes a forage into a squirrelled hoard of treats: the jars, tins, balsawood boxes and less pretty, but functional vacpacs, inside which lie the delicate results of ‘cures’ achieved using sugar, salt, booze or smoke. Preserves are as much a part of my Christmas as the big fat bird and brussels sprouts, only I find them far more interesting. Often they are memories of past Christmases. We recall the specialities our forebears once loved; the image of an elderly relative eating sticky dates on the stalk while watching the telly. My grandmother, for example, felt Christmas was not Christmas without sticky Elvas plums, hand prepared by nuns on a rooftop in a remote town in the hinterland of Portugal and afterwards despatched to Fortnums, where preying suede gloves were ready to pounce on them.It bugs me that we often spend our adult lives trying to be different from our parents, but at Christmas we become them.A sort of forgiveness, in a way, but mostly it is about treating ourselves to how we were once treated. If you are going to splurge — and almost all cured foods are expensive — you may as well buy what you have always known tastes good, unless you become your own artisan and make your own cures and preserves type of person.Over ten years ago the thespian´s friend Louise Nina Knight passed on her recipe which is the one we have always used.Every year now since we moved to Portugal the thespian cures our own ham and each year becomes more proficient at it.And each year he has gathered yet another disciple to the cult.This year we are taking it one step further and have managed to procure online a top quality high purity Saltpetre Potassium Nitrate which we hope will give it that characteristic pink colour and add a distinctive flavour while at the same time acting as an anti-oxidant.
Louise Nina Knight´s Home cured Ham

Here are the instructions in her own words with a few additions from myself
1 leg joint with skin on and bone in ideally about 5 kilos( see above).Get your butcher to cut it into the joint size you require and then follow the brining guidelines
4 kilos = brine for 12 days 3 kilos = brine for 9 days 2 kilos = brine for 6 days

1 1/2 litre cider( you can use light beer or all apple juice)
3 litres apple juice
1 litre water
15 juniper berries
1/2 kilo brown sugar
1/2 kilo black treacle or more brown sugar if unavailable
1kilo salt
5 crushed bay leaves
10 cloves
20 black peppercorns
1 teaspoon allspice
30g saltpetre
( optional..this makes it pink like a proper ham otherwise it will be roast pork coloured but ham flavoured..saltpetre is available on e bay. or possibly through an obliging local butcher...make sure it is FOOD GRADE though I could not get it here as it is a component of bombs along with liquid glycerine which ironically Dear Delia puts in her Chocolate truffle torte Yes, this is the one where the English nation ran out of liquid glucose, because of (it has to be admitted) the power of television.In fact you can add any spices you desire to the sugar,juice and water…
Bring all above ingredients to the boil and then let it cool completely. I use a large cool box which fits into a spare fridge ...whatever you use must be non metallic..a small cool box or massive tupperware thingy perhaps .... ham must be submerged within

Put ham into the container and I put it into the fridge as it's not cold enough to leave out Leave for corresponding number of days,make sure it stays under the brine,I put the cool box lid on and then I usually give it a prod every day or two and turn it too.
Then remove and cook.... I have never soaked my brined ham before cooking..but you can soak for 6 hours or simply bring to boil and throw away first boiling water and add clean water and bring to boil again,then simmer for 2 to 3 hours depending on size . I then skin mine and glaze it with honey and cloves..but you may choose whatever you wish at this point..I then roast it in the oven until the fat is golden and bubbly.Aim to have the ham ready to cook on 23/24 December so count backwards for your brining time. Its really easy once you've made the brine All you need is some patience.Thanks again to Louise for a cracking recipe.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Wingin´it, Asa de raia frita com aioli de pimentao extra picante e Raia alhada

 Asa de raia frita com aioli de pimentao extra picante,
deep-fried skate wing with smoked paprika aioli

People are scared of skate, one of the finest and most delicious fish of all. But don't be: the flesh slides away from those ribby, gelatinous bones with simplicity and ease, so do give it a try.It is such an underrated fish and one which is usually seen pan fried with capers and burnt butter.Nothing wrong with that, but can´t one create something a little different and  a tad more interesting? Its just another fish and its as versatile as any but with the advantage of being quite different in it´s texture and shape.There are two schools of thought on when to cook skate.One is to wait until it smells lightly of ammonia, the other is to use it as fresh as possible.Here I have put up two contrasting methods of cooking Skate (Raia).the first from Renowned New Zealander Peter Gordon and the second from The Algarve, our dearly loved angel of Cabanas Chef Noélia. 
 Get your fishmonger to remove the skate´s leathery outer skin and cut the flesh from the cartilage for you.Skinning a skate at home is definitely a black art, and best left to skilled practitioners.For those of you who cant be  doing with all this,there are many supermarkets now selling frozen skate wings  already cleaned and prepared in this way.I actually used two frozen skate wings from Lidl, for this recipe and the fish was delicious.In this recipe the fish makes a stunning centrepiece on the plate but is the deep frying method the wrong one for this choice of fish? We were divided in our views here, but I would be very interested to hear anyone else´s view if you try it.
Skate(raia) is a popular choice of fish  in the Algarve. In Olhão, the fishermen bring fresh fish and seafood straight from the coast to residents' and restaurant diners´ tables every day. There is one dish although not exclusively regional,but nevertheless a dish specially prepared by some local gastronomic experts, who manage to bring to the table,something which provides for even the most inexperienced palate  and certainly for me a more than pleasurable dish.
The "Raia Alhada" is one of the typical dishes of Olhão.For some, its gelatinous quality puts them off,but for me it is fish heaven and the one who brings out its best is chef Noélia.Her cooking is a blend of Algarvian cuisine blended with her own creativity and  subtle tones of the Mediterranean.What gives her that all important signature is the way she serves dishes directly from their tradition, such as, for example, this raia alhada. Finding a chef who does the traditional dishes well is already  a reason to be happy. But I confess that what I like the most and what makes the difference, what pushes it up a notch, is that Noelia is able to pick up the traditional Algarve matrix and, without undoing it, create new dishes that are bursting with flavour.Lunch or dinner at Noélia´s is always a joy. In the kitchen there is always Noelia, a tireless worker,with a beautiful and friendly presence,spreading her culinary creative magic and making her diners happy by putting the colour and flavours of the Algarve on their plates.
Raia alhada de Noélia
You can´t get more typically Algarvian than this.
400g of Skate
5 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar
4 potatoes,washed and peeled
Coarse Flor de sal
Large handful of coriander

Wash the skate well in running water and leave to marinade in Flor de sal for at least 2 hours.
Put the salted Skate in a pan with boiling water and the potatoes. Leave it on the flame until the potatoes are cooked
Prepare the sauce separately in a container with the crushed garlic, olive oil, vinegar, coriander, and 3 tablespoons of hot stock from the pan cooking the Skate.When the potatoes and skate are cooke drain the water and add the separately prepared coriander and garlic sauce.Return the pan to the flame and continue cooking for a further 5 minutes.Serve immediately from the pan.

Deep-fried skate wing with smoked paprika aioli
( adapted from a recipe by Peter Gordon)
serves 6 as a main course 
6 300-350g skate wings,prepared as described above 
1/2 cup plain flour for dusting the fish
sunflower oil for deep frying
3 limes

Beer batter
11/2 cups plain flour
2 heaped tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp Flor de sal
2 tsp demerara sugar
1 tsp baking powder
230ml bottle beer at room temperature

Smoked paprika aioli

2 egg yolks
1 egg white
1/2 tsp flor de sal
50ml lime juice
4 cloves garlic peeled
1 tsp seed mustard
3 tsp smoked paprika
400ml olive oil
Fill a deep fryer with oil and leave to heat to the required temperature (185ªC)
Meanwhile,take the dry ingredients for the batter and whisk in a bowl for a few seconds to mix. Add all the beer and whisk it in,starting from the inside and working out.
Make sure there are no lumps and leave the batter to stand for 15 minutes.
For the aioli.put the egg yolks and white,salt,lime juice,garlic,mustard and smoked paprika  into a small food processor and purée for 1 minute. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil (not extra virgin),making sure it is absorbed and the aioli does not separate.If it does separate,transfer 100ml to another bowl,add one more egg yolk and whisk well.once it has taken,whisk the remaining mixture in gradually.
lightly dust the skate wings with flour and dip them,one by one,into the batter.Hold them above the batter and let the excess drip back into the mixture,then place them carefully one at a time into the fryer.if you overcrowd it the temperature will drop and the batter will not crisp.They should take 2-3 minutes eac to cook.drain on absorbent papaer and serve with home made chips and peas or wild rocket or watercress. Serve dollops of the aioli sitting on top of 1/2 a lime.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Fish on Friday with a modern take on chip shop style pea fritters

Last week I got expat chip shop cravings. Pea fritters are so British,aren´t they? Remember Mushy peas packed into a ball and then deep fried in batter? I used to love them when I was at college- they were cheap,hot and filling.If you offered them to me now I´d say no thanks.Times have changed,I have moved on, and mushy peas have had their day.I now want a wittier, more modern and more nutritious version of the chip shop style pea fritter.I prefer using fresh minted garden peas folded into a luminous green batter and then fried like patties.Serve alongside hake fillets with sea salt baked roast potatoes, they make the perfect fish on Friday supper.
For those of you unfortunate enough never to have experienced the culinary delight that is a pea is what the chip shop version looks like.
The Trick
Chewy.. Bouncy. Rubbery. These aren’t typically flattering words when it comes to food,but the first batch I made,although delicious in their flavour were spoilt by their gummy texture.Alright if you are in Taiwan or parts of East Asia,where these adjectives describe a beloved texture — a food quality sought after, not shunned. It’s called the “Q” texture, or the mystery food characteristic you didn’t even know you were missing.Firm and springy is good,The "Q" texture has been likened to “a marshmallow or a good-quality gummy worm.”Enough of that digression,the answer to my predicament lies in a protein called Gluten.Have you ever wondered what makes pancakes so fluffy? Why do pancake recipes always tell you not to overmix the batter? Overmixing your pancake batter will result in tough, rubbery and flat pancakes.So do not do what I do and overmix your fritter mix.I also added two teaspoons of baking powder to the equation and the second batch came out light and fluffy.And guess what, if you dont want to eat 12 all at once they freeze beautifully and can be defrosted for a Nigella moment when you get a little peckish in the night.They make a great snack,picnic or lunchbox option.Trust me.

The Twist

Add chopped parsley and chopped mint to the equation.A bit of bacon and or parmesan would not go amiss.To spice them up add green chillies,turmeric ,cumin or garam masala.

Thoroughly modern Pea Fritters
makes 12
3 cups (400g) frozen peas
3 eggs
1 1/4 cups (210g) self raising flour
1 spring onion - chopped
1/3 cup (55 g) crumbled feta cheese
1 tbsp chopped parsley (optional)

1 tbsp chopped mint (optional)
Boil the peas for 4 minutes and drain.
Add the flour, eggs, spring onion and half of the peas to a food processor and pulse until combined.Fold through the remaining peas, feta cheese and parsley.
Fry spoonfuls of the mixture in a little oil for 2 minutes on each side until golden.
Delicious hot or cold.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Pap´açorda, Bread Pap Portuguese style

The days are getting shorter and the nights are getting colder.We need something to warm the cockles,literally.Its time for a hearty Portuguese peasant dish -Pap’Açôrda camãrao (bread stew with prawns).Acorda, a traditional Portuguese bread-based stew with a consistency similar to creamy porridge, is composed of mashed, rustic artesan bread (typically Broa - corn bread), garlic, coriander, olive oil, white wine and of course Flor de sal.What you decide to add to it,the choice is yours,shellfish,prawns,or salt cod?

The breads-Broa de milho,pão bijou,pão pessegueiro

Nowadays perhaps it has lost favour as a stand-by dish to feed babies,but not so long ago it was still very commonly used for this purpose,although adults never turned their back on it.This prawn açorda is a richer version of seafood açorda, using only prawns.The liquid should be made from the the strained liquor left after cooking the prawn shells with garlic and parsley to make a rich stock that will give it it´s distinct seafood taste.The final touch to give the dish its signature: a raw cracked egg, stirred into the dish as the dish is put on the table.Açordas are traditionally served in a hollowed out loaf.The dish is very rich and as a result somewhat filling so if dining out do not even consider ordering anything else when choosing this as a main dish.Certainly never order this in the summer.I have only ever eaten açorda in a restaurant but found that it could be fairly achievable to produce at home.However, in conclusion, I decided it would be better suited to be served as a starter,served not in a hollowed out loaf but in hollowed out pão bijou (small rustic dinner rolls) and served with a quails egg cracked into each one as it is served.If divided into three main steps this is an easy way to approach making the açorda.
Acorda de camarão
Serves 3 more than adequately
1kg raw prawns in their shells
1 400g Broa de milho
(see above), cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes
1 medium onion, diced and divided in two halves
6 peeled garlic cloves
1 bunch parsley, divided
1/4 cup white wine
Large handful coriander
A pinch of paprika
pinch of piri-piri flakes
Fresh ground salt & pepper
8 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 eggs

For The Fish Stock: Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-heat in a large pan. Add half the onion, the prawn shells (after separating them from the prawns by hand), the garlic cloves (whole), and half the parsley (unchopped, with stems). Saute for 2-3 minutes and then add 6 cups of water.Bring mixture to a boil and add a sprinkling of salt & pepper. Simmer for 15 minutes before straining. While broth is cooking...
Prepare the prawns:In a medium saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-heat. Cut each prawn into three chunks. Add chopped prawns, the rest of the onion, coriander, paprika, and rest of parsley (chopped, stems removed.) Saute for about 5 minutes, until onion becomes translucent, stirring frequently. Set mixture aside.
Mash Bread:
By now, your fish stock should be finished cooking (and emitting a wonderful fragrant brothy smell as evidence!) With a colander, drain the broth into a bowl, saving the garlic cloves. Mash them up, since they will be soft from soaking, and add them to the prawn mixture. Set aside broth bowl.
In the large pan which you used for the fish stock, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the cubed bread and stir, and when olive oil is absorbed by bread add 2 more tablespoons. When bread has crisped slightly- make sure it does not burn- add the wine, then the stock, mashing the mixture as you go. It should first resemble the consistency of stuffing, then of a thick porridge as you continue to add liquid. Turn the heat to low as you mash. When the thick porridge consistency is achieved, gently stir in the shrimp mixture, and a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper.Spoon the açorda into the previously hollowed out rolls, crack a quail egg into each, stirring it into the hot porridge, and garnish with some fresh coriander leaves.