Friday, 30 March 2018

The ultimate chocolate hot cross bundt,an easter indulgence

One of the first nursery rhymes I remember learning was "Hot cross buns!Hot cross buns!One-a-penny,two-a-penny, Hot cross buns!" Well what about the the bundt?
I seem to be seeing a lot of bundt cakes across the net of late, and maybe its because its Easter but I have a feeling that these old school cakes are making a very welcome come back.
 There is no set Bundt cake recipe, so the cake is rather identified by its shape. To put it simply, a big, beautiful doughnut with ridged or fluted edges. These cakes can incorporate so many different flavours , and range from a simple sponge to chocolate or orange cakes, to the more traditional bundts, made at Easter or Christmas, that incorporate nuts spices and fruit into them.Well, after the abstinence of Lent, Easter marks the start of spring, the end of self-restraint, and I cant resist being seduced by dark chocolate.After the hardship of my first month of trying to lower my cholesterol I feel I have had forty days and forty nights of lenten punishment.ENOUGH I say, so lets dust off our mixing spoons, man our ovens and have our eggs at the ready.There is no doubt that the traditional Hot Cross Buns will remain popular for  Easter, but the appeal of non-traditional hot cross buns flavoured with dark, milk and white chocolate is on the rise.First I needed some new inspiration for hot cross buns and other Easter breads.  
I love sticky buns! and lets face it we dont have them very often, buts its Easter and whats not to like about chocolate, cinnamon, cardamom or orange sticky pull them apart buns.I have been tempted by an Ottolenghi recipe for monkey bread,but without some monkey business I can not eat this cake and keep my LDL level in check. I know I shouldn´t monkey around with recipes but I really wanted to see if I could make this more cholesterol friendly without losing a pascal offering of exciting sweet flavour combinations. 
 gooodness gracious great balls of unctuousnesss
Chocolate orange monkey bread
Monkey bread is an enriched sweet bread made with lots of pieces of soft, sugar- or syrup-coated dough all stuck together, and you eat it by tearing apart the warm, gooey, soft bread, much as a monkey might.  The loaf will keep for two days, but it needs reheating before serving.I am giving the recipe in its original form and also my lower cholesterol version.The method prep time and cooking time is the same for both versions.

Prep 10 min
Cook 3 hr (including proving)
Serves 12

200ml whole milk
90ml water
40g caster sugar
60g unsalted butter, plus 10g extra, melted, for greasing
1 tsp vanilla essence
7g sachet fast-action dried yeast
280g strong white bread flour
280g plain flour, plus a little extra for dusting
¾ tsp salt
100g dark chocolate chips

For the sauce
135g unsalted butter
120g soft dark brown sugar
Finely grated zest of 1 large orange
80g golden syrup
2 tbsp Dutch processed cocoa powder

Lower cholesterol revised recipe
1 cup almond milk
90ml freshly squeezed orange juice
I soup spoon grated orange zest
1/4 cup honey
2 tbsp mild olive oil, plus extra, for greasing tin
1 tsp vanilla essence
7g sachet fast-action dried yeast
380g plain flour
, plus a little extra for dusting
180g wholewheat flour
280g plain flour
¾ tsp salt
100g dark chocolate chips

For the sauce
8 tbsp olive oil
120g molasses
Finely grated zest of 1 large orange
1/4 cup honey
2 tbsp Dutch processed cocoa powder
Gently warm the first five ingredients in a small saucepan on a medium heat for a minute or two, until the butter is almost melted and the milk is tepid – take care not to overheat the mixture, otherwise you’ll kill the yeast. Turn off the heat, then whisk in the yeast and set aside for 15 minutes, until slightly frothy.
Put both flours and the salt in the bowl of a free-standing mixer with the dough hook in place, add the yeast mixture and knead for three minutes; start on the lowest speed and increase to medium, pausing every now and then to scrape down the sides so you incorporate all the flour. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and spread it out slightly. Scatter the chocolate chips in the middle, fold over the dough to enclose them, then knead for five minutes by hand, until it is springy and soft, and the chocolate is evenly distributed. Put the dough in a large floured bowl, cover with cling-film and leave in a warm spot for 45 minutes, until it has almost doubled in size. Meanwhile, brush the inside of a large bundt tin (24cm in diameter at the top, 20cm at the bottom, 8cm high) with the melted butter.
For the sauce, put all the ingredients in a small saucepan on a medium heat and cook, stirring frequently, for three to four minutes, until the butter, sugar and syrup have melted together into a thick, rich sauce.
Roll the dough into a long sausage, then cut into 24 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, then drop them one by one into the sauce, until roughly coated all over. Put the coated balls of dough in the bundt tin, building up the layers in the tin as you go. When all the dough is coated, pour any remaining sauce over the contents of the tin, then cover and leave in a warm spot for 45 minutes, until nearly doubled in size again.
Heat the oven to 160C/320F/gas 2½. Bake the monkey bread for 35 minutes, until well risen and golden brown, then leave to cool for five minutes. Put a large plate on top of the tin and invert the bread on to the plate. Lift off the tin, leave the bread to rest and cool for 10 minutes more, then serve warm.

Saturday, 24 March 2018

"ATUNA" Siganature tuna, hokey cokey fish and a poke

putting tuna on the map
Good tuna can be larger and heavier than a beautiful calf. Mediterranean chefs know this very well. The sushi men even more. And all of them  select the cut of fish that will fit their recipe, be it raw, grilled, cured or preserved.and no one knows this better than Fabio Zerbo. There should be a chart of the tuna (above) drawn up in much the same way as the charts that show all the cuts of beef.
Seeing the parts previously unknown to you and being able to differentiate the parts of the fish they come from could be as helpful as separating ribs and chop steaks in restaurants.In Portugal and Andalucia, the cult surrounding tuna, ranging from light pink to deep red, comes to restaurant tables in so many styles, guises and even in unthinkable pairings - Had anyone ever thought about enjoying a good jerk tuna or a tuna hot dog? From Lisbon to Ayamonte, ​​this is quite common. In the same category, you can find muxama,  salted air dried tuna meat which is cut into thin slices and can be washed down with a fine sherry or a chilled glass of Alvarinho.

Now Fabio Zerbo is putting tuna firmly on the map and where better to find it than at his new must stop tuna destination in Ayamonte, "ATUNA", restaurant LPA´s new mini bar serving sushi rolls,tuna tartare,a fantastic tuna hot dog and an Ahi poke bowl.A classic Hawaiian preparation, poke (pronounced poh-kay) is a salad of cubed raw fish marinated in sesame oil or soy sauce. ... traditionally made from ahi (yellowfin tuna)Fabio puts his own signature tuna to it.With Champagne, Prosecco, fine Spanish wines and beers,served American diner style out of a state of the art converted newspaper kiosk.This is is not only a relaxing way to put your feet up at any time of the day,but a great while away the happy hour with an aperitif or glass of Veuve Cliquot while waiting for a table to come up at the original LPA.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

The Path of Lean Resistance.

Almond milk poached chicken with Puy lentil herb risotto
Does anyone poach any more?
Blimey!!!, the doc says I have to watch the cholesterol.My cholesterol level had shown a distinct movement in the wrong direction.Something,it was intimated (by the doctor,not by me) ,must be done and fast.Whats to be done? All my favourite foods are off the menu and health is the new watchword.Do you have any idea what this means to my style of cooking and eating? I am talking about a man for whom there is no pudding without a good dollop of cream.Strawberries and what? I thought as I grudgingly left the clinic.
As far as I can make out,if you want to lower your bad cholesterol level (LDL) quickly,then you´ll have to live on porridge and prunes (without the cream and brown sugar,thank you very much).On the other hand one month in on the porridge diet I´m beginning to go stir crazy.A more measured approach needs to be taken or I´ll lose my spirtle.Out with the butter and the cream,and the duck fat,and the beef dripping,and the sausages and eggs and bacon of course. And well.... so many other delicious and wonderful favourites.In with those fibre filled pulses,beans and grains,root veg and greens, spinach,broccoli cabbage and kale. Hurrah.In with the omega 3,oily fish,oily fish,oily fish,especially the likes of salmon and mackerel.Chicken without the skin on, no more frying,aaaaaaaggggggh no chips?.Low fat this,no fat that.Oven roasting,braising, baking and boiling and poaching are all alternatives to pan fried and deep fried. Careful choices of oils and of course the odd glass(ONE,three,five,seven or nine) of "Red" wine.Oh no.Anyway cometh the hour, cometh the cook, as I always say, it is not a problem, its a challenge.The reality is I am left to face the long dark night of dietary rectitude on my own.Its down with the reference books and on with the thinking cap, to keep a modicum of pleasure in the life of those I cook for and myself.
In a case like this, necessity is said to be the mother of invention. I certainly hope so when I put it to the test.My Triglycerides  (triggley what? triglynounsatrated? Tyrannosaurus?) are "well high". If I dont act according to doctors orders my liver will be "real bad".That well known proverb, implies that when you are left with no other option but to complete a certain task or live through a certain situation you manage to do so by any means.Another which comes to mind is "Where there is a will there is a way", so modifying my diet in order to lower cholesterol is the brief,and so be it.The  implication is simple, that when you are left with no other option but to complete a certain task or live through a certain situation you manage to do so by any means it.So what can stay and what must go? Ironically, when I wrote in my recent post,("A beurre necessity") the proper ratio of butter to toast is about 2:1, I did not know what was just around the corner.That butter sauces represent some of the highest achievements of culinary science (easy to make too),that the proper way to health and happiness is to eat lots of absolutely everything,well maybe not? I am beginning to feel like I am  being punished for a crime I have not committed.
One of the first things that came to mind was that kitchen staple - Ahhh o famoso molho béchamel!!!!.Bechamel sauce (or Sauce Béchamel if you are French) is one of those workhorses in the kitchen we tend to take for granted, until life throws a monkey-wrench into the works … like having to transition to a low cholesterol diet!Armed with cartons of oat milk, almond milk and rice milk( none of which have to contain the dreaded soy) I have all my options for sweet and savoury covered.
Remember when eggs and butter were deemed to be bad for you because they could raise your cholesterol levels? Cholesterol only became a household term in the 1960s.Who was the killjoy who told us eggs are thought to be taboo when it comes to the topic of cholesterol.Well a little bit of good news, eating eggs in moderation, about 4-6 eggs per week, is acceptable, even for people with high cholesterol.Research has shown that people who eat eggs in moderation don’t show an increase in their cholesterol levels compared to those who eliminate eggs completely from their diet.There is a key word through all this "moderation."Don’t start piling on the three-egg omelettes and if you’re still worried about eating eggs, consider egg whites alone. They’re still loaded with protein, but without so much cholesterol -Par eggscellence.
"One important point to keep in mind: How you prepare your food is almost as important as which type of food you eat.It's always best to broil, grill, or steam foods."
So far I have assembled a new portfolio of dishes made with ingredients I love.With the help of multi grain breads I can make butterless sandwiches and bruschettas with avocado, mushrooms and aubergines.If you are looking for ideas on how to incorporate mushrooms into your cholesterol-lowering diet, there are plenty of ways to add them to appetizers.Im going nuts and bananas about my new plan.I love them both and am incorporating them amicably into the regime.Oh well all is not lost,I must say that you learn some interesting things along the way.Brazil nuts are one of my favourite snacks, and I’ve just discovered a reason to eat more of them. A single ‘dose’ of just 4 Brazil nuts can significantly improve cholesterol balance – an effect that starts within 6 hours and lasts for at least 30 days!
Anyway here you will find some of the fruits of my labours.I won´t make any claims for purity in these matters.As you will see there is the odd bit of slippage here and there,but they´re a step in the right direction.At least.I hope so. It’s like me insisting that I will be beach-body ready by the summer while maintaining my cast-iron commitment to doing no exercise and eating what I want. Solomon himself could not resolve that one.
A few tips to start......
Bananas,nuts,strawberries ,cherries
Potatoes are fine just dont peel them
Cook more with sweet potato
When it comes to baking replace butter with olive oil
Oily fish at least twice a week
Select leaner cuts of meat and smaller portions
lean beef: chuck, sirloin or loin
lean pork cuts: the tenderloin or loin chop
lamb: if you must, cuts from the leg, arm and loin
ground beef that contains 90 percent or higher lean meat

Almond milk poached chicken 
with Puy lentil herb risotto (main picture)
 Serves 2
500ml almond milk
2 bay leaves
3 spring onions, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon sea salt flakes
2 x 220g chicken breast fillets, trimmed
1/2 cup (140g) natural Greek-style yoghurt
1/8 cup (30ml) extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and cracked black pepper
1/4 cup (80g) smoked almonds, chopped
Place the almond milk, bay, onion and salt in a large deep-sided frying pan over high heat and bring to the boil. Add the chicken, reduce heat to low and cook, covered, for 12–15 minutes or until cooked through. Remove chicken from the pan and set aside to cool. Strain the poaching liquid, reserving ¼ cup (60ml). Shred chicken and place in a large bowl with reserved liquid while you cook the risotto Place the yoghurt, oil, salt and pepper in a small bowl and mix to combine. Add the chicken and toss to combine. Divide the risotto among two plates,and top with the chicken and almonds. Serves 4.
3 cloves garlic

1 medium onion finely chopped
extra virgin olive oil
35 g (1.5 oz )risotto rice
35 g (1.5 oz puy lentils
small bunch of parsley with stalks, coarsely chopped
Vegetable stock
2 handfuls baby spinach leaves
In a pan sautée the garlic and onion in some olive oil,for about two minutes until transparent.Add the rice and lentils and sautée again until nicely coated.Add the parsley stalks and sufficient stock to cover by about 3cms.Bring to boil,then reduce heat, cover and simmer gently for 20-25 minutes until the lentils are tender,Check from time to time 
for the moisture content and if getting dry add some more stock.Stir in the chopped spinach and allow to wilt before serving.

Chicken satay
1 shallot, peeled and chopped
2 cloves of garlic,peeled and crushed
small thumb of ginger peeled and grated
1 stem lemongrass,shredded
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 small hot piri piri chillies,finely chopped
1 teaspoon good quality curry powder
150g peanut or almond butter
3 heaped tbsp chopped fresh coriander
tsp sugar

Soften and very lightly brown the chopped shallot,garlic,ginger and lemongrass in the oil over a moderate heat.Stir in the chillies and curry powder and continue cooking for a couple of minutes.Add the nut butter, 250ml water and bring to the boil.Season with coriander and sugar to taste.Serve as a dipping sauce for chicken skewers.

Lets get ready to crumble
Is it a cake? Is it a pudding,no its.....
Apricot crumble cake
I was determined to work the new wonderdrug oatmeal in somehow.The classic Atholl Brose or Cranachan were the front runners,but they consist largely of cream alas.Apples seemed the natural candidate to be paired with oatmeal for a crumble,but then I stumbled upon the commander in chief of comfort food, Nigel Slaters apricot crumble cake.“Ooh I say!”, with a bit of adjustment swapping flour in the mix for olive oil and meddling with the topping I was on to something that would lower those Triglycerides
 It’s a naughtier version of apple crumble, but, somehow, refreshingly different.It's worth baking for the smell alone!  Buttery, almondy, cakeyness.I have convinced myself that it is healthy eating (well I can,can´t I?). It goes down very well with a pot of tea of a rainy afternoon.
250g dried apricots
3/4 cup olive oil
175g golden caster sugar
2 eggs
80g ground almonds
175g self-raising flour
A pinch ground cinnamon
A few drops vanilla extract

For the crumble
100g plain flour
75g butter
2tbsp demerara sugar
3tbsp jumbo oats
2tbsp flaked almonds
A little cinnamon and extra demerara
Sugar for the crust, and perhaps a little icing sugar to finish

Preheat the oven to 160˚C/gas mark 3. Line the base of a 22cm round cake tin with baking parchment. Put the apricots in a saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, then turn off the heat and leave them to cool a little.

Beat the eggs and sugar in a large bowl until the sugar is completely dissolved.
Add the lemon zest and pinch of salt.Add the olive oil little by little, mixing well after each addition.
Fold in the ground almonds, flour and cinnamon, then add the vanilla extract. Scrape the mixture into the tin and smooth the surface.
Drain the apricots and add them to the top of the cake mixture. Make the crumble topping: blitz the flour and butter to crumbs in a food processor, then add the demerara sugar, oats and flaked almonds and mix lightly. Remove the food processor bowl from the stand and add a few drops of water. Shake the bowl a little-or run a fork through the mixture-so that some of the crumbs stick together like small pebbles. This will give a more interesting mix of textures.
Scatter this loosely over the cake, followed by a pinch of cinnamon and a little more demerara. Bake for about an hour, checking for doneness with a skewer; it should come out clean.
Remove the cake from the oven and set aside. Dust with a little icing sugar if you wish and slice as required. The cake will keep well for three or four days.

    Friday, 16 March 2018

    Rolling, rolling, rolling, the legendary wagon wheel biscuit

    "It's more than a biscuit, it's a mighty big snack!"
    Who´s old enough to remember this ground breaking biscuit from the 1950s ?...... A little bit retro and whole lot more delicious, inspired by memories of the school tuck shop I set out to see whether I could recreate the legendary wagon wheel biscuit, and give them the taste I remember with an echo of a distant age of giant biscuits and the history that comes with them. There once was a mighty biscuit baron called Garfield Weston. An entrepreneurial Canadian, he made a fortune out of supplying biscuits to the forces during the war and had a facility in Slough. Mr Weston had three sons. One son inherited the UK business, one had the Canadian, and the other Weston got Australia. Which is why in each country one can find the Wagon Wheel.Reputed to be the brain child of Garry Weston, the UK son, they were originally sold in the UK as Weston's Wagon Wheels.
     "A taste for adventure."
     For those of you not up to speed with the wagon wheel,they are a chocolate-coated biscuit and marshmallow sandwich sold with packaging that capitalized on the Wild West,which with programmes like Wagon Train, Rawhide, Bonanza, The Lone Ranger and The Virginian were popular in the media at the time.There is a top and bottom biscuit layer lined with raspberry or strawberry jam(Australian version only), with marshmallow in the middle holding them together, then the whole thing is coated in chocolate. The soft biscuit layers have a bit of crunch to them. The centre is white.

    The packaging I remember, originally sold in the UK as Weston's Wagon Wheels.

    The size of the UK one was reduced in width in the 1980s after the move to Wales, from 79 mm to 74 mm. At the same time, the British Wagon Wheel lost its crimped edge. Australian Wagon Wheels continue to have their crimped edge (as of 2005.)The original Wagon Wheel carried no jam.One with jam accompanying the mallow is sold in Australia, the UK, Canada and in Ireland. In Australia, the jam is described as "apple and plum" jam. The jam is directly on the bottom biscuit, then there's a layer of mallow. In the British jam version, called a "Jammie Wagon Wheel", which weighs 38g, the jam doesn't touch the biscuit: there's the biscuit, then a layer of mallow, then a layer of jam, then a layer of mallow. In Canada, the jam used appears to be raspberry.
      "If there's a bigger bite, it can't be found."
      During the 1960s the slogan in Australia was "It's more than a biscuit, it's a mighty big snack!" "Eat the Wagon Wheel!" was the catchphrase of a campaign where viewers were informed of what items were typically available as snacks in countries where Wagon Wheels were not available. The voice over would then ask which you would rather eat. Then the reply would come from, for instance, one of the pickled herrings on offer, "Eat the Wagon Wheel!" This giant marshmallow and jam-filled biscuit  I turned out was so much bigger than the Wagon Wheels I remember from my childhood.'Yes, yes, but what does it taste like?' I tend to hear you cry, waiting for a review. Well its most definitely a Wagon Wheel. All the classic components are there, the chocolate flavoured coating, which appeared a bit darker than the original I remembered, more cocoa perhaps?  However there is a definite difference and I think this comes mainly from the jam and its placement. In my Wagon Wheel  it is applied directly to the bottom of both biscuits. The result is definitely a challenge for the palate. I even believed at one point that I detected a Raspberry pip, even though I knew that this was impossible, a cunning fantasy woven for me by antipodean biscuit makers.
        Bearing in mind they were comparing something from memory.The biscuit was spot on but should be thinner.Authenticity~wise there should be no jam, this is something that should be left to the Australians.The mallow was too squidgy.This was my fault. In attempting home made marshmallow, which failed miserably, I would suggest to anyone attempting to make home made wagon wheels that you use a commercial brand of marsh mallows and melt them down.I have since found a recipe (below) which is very different to the one I used and potentially seems pretty sound if you have patience.My chocolate covering, all agreed, was delicious but once again for authenticity it should be milk chocolate.My wagon wheels weighed in at nearly double the weight (5oz) of the original specification(3.5oz)!!!.I kept to the original diameter of 79mm.
        Home made wagon wheels
        makes 6
        140 g pure icing sugar
        140 g cornflour
        400 g caster sugar
        1 tablespoon liquid glucose
        2 tablespoons powdered gelatine
        2 egg whites
        75 g cornflour

        Sift the icing sugar and cornflour into a bowl. Grease and line a 4 cm-deep, 18 cm x 25 cm ceramic baking tray. Dust the inside of the pan with a generous amount of the icing sugar mix, setting the reminder aside for later. In a small bowl sprinkle the gelatine over 200 ml cold water to allow it to dissolve and soften.  
        Combine the caster sugar, glucose and 200 ml water in a small saucepan over a low heat. Stir constantly, until the sugar completely dissolves. Increase the heat to medium, bring the mix to the boil and cook until it reaches 120°C on a sugar thermometer.
        Meanwhile, while the sugar syrup is cooking, start beating the egg whites. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the whites on low until they become frothy. Increase the speed to high and continue to beat until they're thick and fluffy.
        As soon as the sugar syrup reaches 120°C, and without stopping the motor, slowly pour the syrup into the egg whites in a steady stream. Continue to beat on high.
        Pour the gelatine and water into the saucepan used to make the sugar syrup, scraping the bowl to ensure there's none of the mix left behind. Place over a very low heat and stir until the gelatine is completely dissolved. Due to the residual heat left in the saucepan this should only take a few moments. Without stopping the motor, pour the gelatine mixture into the whites. Continue to whip for eight minutes or until the mixture thickens and becomes glossy. Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan. Smooth the top with a wet palette knife, then set aside and allow to dry for three to six hours, uncovered. If you're kitchen is too warm, you can also chill the mix in the fridge for 1 hour, then allow it to sit, uncovered for an extra hour. When done it should feel dry to the touch.Once set,cut out six 8cm discs with a biscuit cutter.

        225g butter
        75g caster sugar
        1 egg yolk
        1 tbsp golden syrup or maple syrup
        210g plain flour 
        Cream together the butter and sugar and then add the egg yolk and syrup.Fold in the flour and mix to a smooth dough.Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
        Roll out to 2mm thick.Cut out 12 x 8cm discs,allowing two per portion,and bake for 10 to 15 minutes until golden.allow to cool.

        100g good quality plain or ideally milk chocolate
        150ml double cream
        50g butter
        Melt the chocolate with the cream in a bain - marie over simmering water.Once melted,add the butter and stir in.Remove from the heat to prevent the butter from becoming too liquid.The butter should have melted and emulsified into the chocolate mixture.If the mixture is too thin leave to cool to thicken slightly.

        Spread some jam (Australian version) fairly generously over 6 biscuits.Sit a marshmallow disc on each then spread some more jam on top.Finish with another biscuit to complete the "sandwich".
        For a perfect chocolate finish,spoon the chocolate mixture on in stages.First sit the biscuits on a wire rack and set over abaking tray or plate and spoon some of the chocolate topping over to cover completely Refrigerate for 15 to 20 minutes until set.Remove and turn the biscuits upside down on the rack.Spoon more of the chocolate over the biscuits to cover.Refrigerate again until set.Remove and spoon over any remaining chocolate(you might need to re-use some of the topping from the tray)for an even more luscious finish.
        good luck-Yeehaw!!

        Wednesday, 14 March 2018

        East side story

        Come in hummus your time´s up, there´s a new boat to push out from across the pond and its called Muhammara!!!!
        Have you ever tried muhammara? It’s a spicy pepper dip that originated from Aleppo, Syria, with one of the key ingredients being Aleppo chili flakes!
        Technically speaking this is the East Algarve but with a bit of artistic licence it can be Algarvian Levant.So with my new found muhammara I decided to put together a simple mid-week middle eastern /Levantine supper.Most of the ingredients which I needed, Za´atar, sumac etc, are available here, with the exception of the Aleppo chili flakes, so I substituted with piri piri flakes which have much more heat and so I accordingly reduced the quantity.I substituted roasting the peppers for a jar of piquillo peppers which brought it closer to home and gave it a sweeter and smokier flavour.The feature of my dish was Middle Eastern style chicken skewers with an Iranian dip on the side, served with Pan cooked yoghurt flatbreads.Think of muhammara as a mix of savoury, sweet, and smoky with a little spice.
        First comes lemon for acidity,then walnuts for bite, cumin for smokiness, Aleppo chili flakes for heat, pomegranate molasses for sweetness and depth of flavour, bread crumbs for texture, olive oil for body, and salt for overall flavour.This classic Levantine dip can be made in a food processor, but it will lose some of its lovely texture, so if you are looking for a more textured dip I'd use a pestle and mortar,. Muhammara keeps well and even improves after a day in the fridge; just don't serve it fridge-cold. Serves four as a dip or side dish.Easy to make, BIG  flavour, smoky, spicy, subtly sweet, hearty,
        healthy and delicious.I defy anyone not to love this.

        Muhammara (serves 4)
        3 red bell peppers (360 g) or a jar of piquillo peppers
        2-3 Tbsp (30-45 ml)home made pomegranate molasses

        3 Tbsp (15 g) bread crumbs
        11/2 tsp ground cumin
        1/2 tsp sea salt, plus more to taste
        2 tsp dried Aleppo chilli flakes,  (
        or piri piri flake and reduce to 1 tsp)
        1 clove garlic (3 g), minced 

        1/2 cup (60 g) raw walnuts, finely chopped
        2 Tbsp (30 ml) olive oil 

        1/2 Tbsp (5 ml) lemon juice
        Flor de sal
        Heat oven to 450 degrees F (232 C) and place whole bell peppers, (if using) directly on a baking sheet. Roast for 20-25 minutes or until blackened on the outside. Cover with foil to let steam and cool for 10 minutes. Then peel away core, seeds, and skins and set aside.
        To a food processor, add pomegranate molasses, bread crumbs, cumin, salt, chili flakes, garlic, walnuts, olive oil, and lemon juice and pulse (instead of blend) to combine. Then add roasted peppers and pulse a few more times to combine. I think a little texture is nice in this dip instead of a purée.Taste and adjust flavour as needed, adding more lemon for acidity, garlic for "zing," chili flakes for spice, pomegranate molasses for sweetness / depth of flavor, sea salt for saltiness, or cumin for smokiness.
        Serve with fresh Pan cooked yoghurt flatbreads. Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator up to 3 days. Let come to room temperature before enjoying - I like it warm.

        Middle eastern Chicken Skewers with Za´atar and Sumac
        Serves 2
        2 skinless boneless chicken breasts, each breast cut lengthways into 4 pieces
        1 red onion cut into wedges
        1 tablespoon olive oil
        1/2 tbsp lemon juice
        2 tbsp Za´atar
        1 tbsp sumac
        In a mixing bowl toss together all the ingredients and leave to marinade until you are ready to use. Thread the chicken portions and onion wedges onto 4 metal skewers
        and grill on high for 10- 15 minutes turning.Serve with muhammara and yoghurt flatbreads.

        Friday, 9 March 2018

        One meal two ways,butternut squash ravioli with walnut sauce

        One recipe two different meals, one a midweek supper that you can whip up quickly without breaking your back, the other, one that will be a little more involved.A starter for a more special occasion or for when you are catering for guests.
         My intention is that two versions on a common theme will allow extra-busy people the chance to get ahead when they have time.Prepping at the weekend for midweek suppers eases the strain.The walnut sauce can be made up to 4 days in advance and kept in a sealed container in the fridge.The ravioli filling can be made in advance too and even the ravioli themselves can be filled up to 24 hours ahead, tossed with some flour or semolina and kept chilled in a sealed container.Which leaves us with yours and my only big headache, the pasta.You can make your basic pasta dough up to 24 hours ahead, wrap in clingfilm and chill or freeze for up to 1 month in a freezer bag.I am not providing a recipe for the pasta dough as this is something so personal.What recipe works for one fails another.You have to experiment and find a recipe you are comfortable with.Some recipes just use eggs and flour while others include semolina.Some advocate making the dough in a processor while others painstakingly apply love and knead the dough with their hands.A method I have come to prefer.Whatever recipe you go for,we are all in agreement that `00´flour is the only way to go.Another personal option is whether to roll out the dough by hand or whether to employ a pasta machine.Ideally, whichever method you go for  you want to be able to see your hand through the pasta once it is rolled.
        I wasn't quite sure what an "open faced" ravioli would be like

        This filling is also delicious served as a pasta sauce,in which case you should thin it slightly before using with some single cream.
        1 small butternut squash,peeled seeds removed,cut into 2-3 cm chunks
        125g unsalted butter
        1 garlic clove sliced
        1/2 tbsp dried oregano
        1 tsp fresh sage leaves,chopped
        100g ricotta
        75g freshly grated parmesan, plus extra to serve
        1 quantity of basic pasta dough (see above)
        Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and cook the squash for 15-20 minutes until very tender.Drain in a colander and leave to cool..heat half the butter in a large frying pan and cook the garlic until soft.Add the oregano, sage and the cooked squash.
        Use a wooden spoon to mash the squash and cook for about ten minutes or until the mixture appears quite dry.leave to cool.Add the ricotta and parmesan and mix well.Then taste and adjust the seasoning.

        1/2 garlic clove
        100g shelled walnuts
        Juice  1/2 lemon
        75g parmesan grated
        2 tbsp whole milk
        4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
        1 heaped tsp finely chopped fresh parsley
        Crush the garlic and a pinch of sea salt in a pestle and mortar,then add the walnuts.Pound until smooth,then mix in the lemon juice,parmesan,milk,olive oil and parsley,one after the other.Work the mixture together so the sauce becomes emulsified,then taste and adjust the seasoning.
        When ready to cook,Boil the ravioli in a large pan of salted water for 3-5 minutes.Drain lightly,then toss gently in the pan with the walnut sauce, and a little of the cooking water.Serve in hot bowls with a little parmesan and a sprinkling of fresh parsley.

        For the quick midweek supper version 
        "Open faced ravioli" 
        Take 4 sheets of fresh lasagne dough and cut them into 8 sqares.You will need four squares per portion.Boil the squares of lasagne in a large pan for about 2-3 minutes or as manufacturers recoomendation.Stir constantly to avoid the sheets sticking to each other and the bottom of the pan.I always cook an extra couple of sheets more than I need to cover this eventuality.When the pasta is cooked drain and lay the sheets out on a clean tea towel and fold the towel over to keep the pasta warm.Meanwhile heat through the pasta filling and in another pan the walnut sauce.Spoon some of the filling on the bottom of a warm plate and cover with a square of pasta.Repeat until you have used four pasta squares.Pour over and around some walnut sauce.Sprinkle with parmesan and chopped parsley. Repeat with your second portion or more.

        Monday, 5 March 2018

        Kefir panna cotta with saffron and cardamom jelly

          “If it takes you more than five minutes to put it together, you’re doing something wrong.”

        Panna cotta is such a lovely blank slate, like its savoury sister polenta it can be flavoured according to one’s desire. What’s not to love about a dessert like that? Vanilla is an obvious choice, but cardamom, cinnamon, tonka, nutmeg, lemongrass, ginger, lemon geranium are all spices you could toy with.Inspired by a creme caramel I saw Nigel Slater make on his tour of Iran,I thought i would go for a combination of saffron and cardamom,topped with a wonderful golden jelly.Interestingly enough it’s become popular in Paris and nowadays, it’s just as common to see it on menus as crème caramel and crème brûlée.This is perhaps the easiest dessert to make ever.As David Lebovitz aptly describes panna cotta, “If it takes you more than five minutes to put it together, you’re doing something wrong.” The spin I put on it made it an Italian dessert with Indian flavours.The spices enhance the rich flavours of the Kefir, cream,and Greek yoghurt (yes i know,before you say it,not authentic but try it, it gives the whole thing a moussey texture) and  pull the whole thing together with a heady top note of flavour and perfume. An amazing fusion dessert with melt in the mouth texture and mildly sweetened with a subtle enticing aroma of cardamom.It gives the saffron cardamom flavours a chance to shine.
        Kefir panna cotta with saffron and cardamom jelly 
        makes 4  
        kefir is fermented cows milk, full of gut friendly bacteria.
        It´s used in recipes for its tangy flavour similar to soured cream.
        Find it in supermarkets and health food stores.
        250ml greek yoghurt
        125ml kefir
        125ml regular cream
        4oz caster sugar
        12 cardamom pods shelled and ground up
        large pinch of saffron threads

        3 leaves of gelatine
        Beat the yoghurt lightly with a fork until smooth and creamy.Soak the saffron in a little warm water and stir.Combine the cream and kefir in a small pan with the sugar, ground cardamom and saffron.Heat over a medium flame until the sugar has dissolved,the mixture is nicely warm to the touch.Remove from the heat.Dissolve the gelatine in 4 tablespoons of water and add to the cream mixture.Stir to mix.Beat in the yoghurt.spoon the mixture into four individual ramekin dishes and chill for several hours or ideally overnight.Dip each ramekin briefly into some hot water to loosen the panna cotta and then turn out onto serving plates.

        Friday, 2 March 2018

        'Choose Our Food' economizar a quilometragem dos alimentos e pegada ecológica

         O pastor do cabrito Nuno Coelho. Foto:Beatriz Ruiz Martinez, Al Algarve conmigo

        How much of the food you will eat today will be locally produced? And how much will travel hundreds, if not thousands, of miles before it is delivered to your plate?
        The more food miles that are attached to a given food, the less sustainable and the less environmentally desirable that food is. The term food miles has become part of the vernacular among food professionals when describing the farm to consumer network of food.
        It’s so rare we get to connect with exactly where our food comes from,but when I return from the market with dirt that grasps my potatoes, it does just that.

        Once upon a time organically classified produce was all the rage.Times change and fashions change.The fashion now is for foods that are "locally produced".Nobody seems to be able to answer the question why this produce can not be locally produced and nevertheless be organic.Money I presume is the the short answer with "locally produced" a concession to the supposed cost (and carbon footprint) of transport.
        Local food now represents an alternative to the global food model, a model which often sees food travelling long distances before it reaches us the consumer. A local food network involves relationships between food producers, distributors, retailers, and consumers in a particular place, where they work together to increase food security and ensure economic, ecological and social sustainability of a community.Locally grown food has a significant connection to organics. For one thing, many local farms are organic (some certified, some not certified).
        More important, though, is the raging debate about which is better: certified organic food or local food. While both local and organic foods carry pros and cons, people have some very strong opinions about which is best, and many like myself would like to purchase both locally-produced and organically-grown food.
        People who buy this produce may also want to see sustainable production and distribution business practices. Animal welfare issues and fair farm labour practices also are important to many customers who strive to "buy local."

        Finally, "the story behind the food" may be important to some customers, who like to meet growers and understand their ethics.
        Organic farming can help cut greenhouse emissions: it uses less water and less energy than conventional farming, which is heavily dependent on high-energy processes and fossil fuels for fertilisers and pesticides. Organic food production is also better for wildlife, livestock, people and the environment. 
        A word on buying direct: because all the produce has been grown, reared or produced by the people who are selling it, you can find out everything you want to know about the food and how it was grown or cooked. The money you spend goes directly to the people who actually do the work to produce the food you're eating - the farmers and makers - rather than supermarkets and wholesalers.
        Stay in touch with the seasons and discover produce you've never had before. There won’t be plums or sardines in April but, when they are in season, the farmers,fishermen and artesan producers will bring in many different varieties. You’ll also find produce you may not have come across before, such as organic hams ,cured sausages and rare cheeses. 
         It has always been part of our mission statement here at Casa rosada to dispel the view that the Algarve is just about beaches and leisure activities.In Baixo Guadiana,the area in which we live,far from the main cities of the Algarve is an unknown world.We are in Castro Marim a stones throw from Spain.Our nearest town is Vila Real de Santo António and just up the river is the pretty little town of Alcoutim.These three towns for some part live off the produce of the people who work in the surrounding countryside.To give this area the recognition it truly deserves a project has been launched to show that this area rises above the vulgarity of mass tourism and exposes a "real Algarve"
        'Choose Our Food' project wants to broaden horizons and get the message out there to promote wonderful local artesan products.This is a movement for the Algarve, for those who live here but also its visitors.
        Choose our Food, launched by Odiana, the Baixo Guadiana Development Association, which includes Alcoutim, Castro Marim and Vila Real de Santo António, is a project that aims to create a cooperative network to promote food products in the region and reveal the potential of its gastronomy.Choose our Food aims to maximize regional agri-food products and strengthen business cooperation in the region. The agricultural heritage of the Baixo Guadiana is of unequaled wealth, the result of diverse cultural influences and ideal climatic conditions. The excellence of the products from the region are untouched by the major engines of the tourist industry.Despite their excellence these products,are sometimes more easily exported from the region than sold and consumed within its boundaries. It seems that the hotel industry consumes products from outside the region rather than promoting what is readily available locally.This disregard for local resources is also linked to the large proliferation of supermarket chains with a wide range of associated products which, either because of low cost or centralized purchasing makes traditional products less competitive. All these factors led to the development of the "Choose our Food" project. This project is a mission for the sustainable development of the region.Over the coming months Casa Rosada is planning some field trips to meet and then promote through blog posts some of these artesan producers.We then at some point plan to have a tasting evening for an invited audience of restaurateurs and members of the expat community who work and live here.
        Shop local, buy local, get to know local, spread the "local" word and take local home.