Saturday, 3 December 2016

Panna cotta de trufa with bacon marmalade and a crisp biscuit

Since a panna cotta is really creamy, you can add different textures and flavours to your cream to make it more interesting. Like what? Peas, tomato,basil, mint.These have been my previous ideas, but I now wanted to take it a step further and make a new starter with mushrooms.Mushrooms I always feel have an autumnal feel about them, so what I wanted to create was a panna cotta with a more earthy taste.I had bought some Porcini mushrooms and I asked my Italian chef friend Fabio Zerbo if he had ever made a savoury pannacotta.His answer was NO, but when I told him my idea was to make a Porcini mushroom version of the Italian classic he suddenly became animated and suggested I should re-hydrate the mushrooms in the Spanish Brandy Luis Felipe.At €80 a bottle Fabio? Have a laugh, I dont think so. I loved the sheer indulgence of his idea and the concept of marrying the sweet creamy digestif with the earthy flavour of the porcini, but I had to consider budget and settled for a good quality dry sherry.Still keeping a happy union of Italian and Spanish.

THE TRICK:The sherry is what makes this something special.I think if the mushrooms had been re-hydrated just in warm water the recipe would fall short.Make sure the Porcini mushrooms are the best quality you can find.A little goes along way and so don´t be tempted to over egg the pudding, so to speak.The final result is a wonderful surprise and bears a resemblance to foie gras both in texture and taste,so much so that in hindsight the next time I serve it I will make extra fingers of toast enabling the recipients to spread it if they want.The bacon marmalade can be served on the side.
Panna cotta de trufa boletus or Porcini mushrooms

4 tablespoons of dry sherry 
15g dried mushrooms (porcini, trumpets of death ...)
1 tablespoon butter
250ml cream (35% fat)
a splash of soya sauce
2 sheets of gelatine (4g)
A splash of soya sauce In a shallow dish soak the dried mushrooms in warm sherry for 20 minutes.Drain the mushrooms, keeping the rehydration liquid, chop them finely and saute them briefly over high heat with the butter. In a small pan mix the cream and a couple of tablespoons of liquid from the mushrooms. Cook until it just starts to boil. Soften the gelatine sheets in cold water for 5-8 minutes.Drain the gelatine and add it to the cream off the heat along with the splash of soy sauce. Fill 5 x 80ml ramekins almost to the top and carefully add the sautéed mushrooms with a teaspoon till the mixture rises to the top of the ramekins Put in the refrigerator for 4 hours or overnight.

Bacon marmalade
this is a loose interpretation of Fabio´s bacon marmalade that I came to enjoy so much at LPA last year.

1 lb smoked bacon, sliced into small pieces (or use regular bacon and liquid smoke)
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 medium brown onion, sliced
3 tablespoons brown sugar
Tabasco sauce (according to taste and optional)
1 cup brewed coffee
1⁄4 cup apple cider vinegar
1⁄4 cup honey
black pepper
extra water

In a non stick pan, fry the bacon in batches until lightly browned and beginning to crisp.
Fry the onion and garlic in the rendered bacon fat on medium heat until translucent.
Transfer the bacon, onion and garlic into a heavy based cast iron pot and add the rest of the ingredients except for the water.
Simmer for 2 hours adding 1/4 of a cup of water every 25-30 minutes or so and stirring,taking care not to let the mixture dry out and catch on the bottom of the pan.
When ready, cool for about 15-20 minutes and then place in a food processor. Pulse for 2-3 seconds so that you leave some texture to the “jam” or of course you could keep whizzing and make it a smoother and more paste like.
When ready to serve Dip each ramekin into some warm water and run a knife around the edge to loosen.Invert the ramekin onto a serving plate and shake to release the panna cotta.Serve with crusty toast soldiers and the bacon marmalade on the side.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Cure it Thursday

Stir up Sunday passed unnoticed at Casa Rosada this year.Its been such a busy year my head just was not ready to start planning Christmas on 20th November.Two weeks have now passed its December the first and we have just returned from a weekend of house and animal sitting for our friends.They have extensive land, fruit trees and different varieties of olive.Our friends do not like olives and said they were quite happy for us to harvest whatever we wanted.As our own sole olive tree had borne no fruit this year the offer was more than welcome.We returned with enough olives to salt cure and then bottle in different oils for next years guests.I am now going to inaugurate this annual event as "Cure it Thursday".
Getting to grips with the recipe it was a case of 972 olives, Connie you slit I´ll cure....

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.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Now avocados with a nod to the past

Every year more and more people discover the avocado.Avocados can be propagated by seed, taking roughly four to six years to bear fruit, although in some cases, as in mine, seedlings can take 10 years to come into bearing.
they were not to be
We planted our first avocado tree 10 years ago and eureka we we thought we had our first fruit this year and a serious harvest to contend with.Alas all the fruit fell off the tree when they were very small.Our diagnosis from research was that it was a lack of water.

The variety most common in Portugal is "Bacon."Developed by a farmer James Bacon in 1954. Bacon has medium-sized fruit with smooth, green skin with yellow-green, light-tasting flesh. When ripe, the skin remains green, but darkens slightly, and fruit yields to gentle pressure. It is cold-hardy down to −5 °C (23 °F).
 Most of us have fantasies of strong and spectacular plants surging from a sturdy pip we have saved.For many years in Britain,the avocado pear remained a gourmet fruit, known and loved by the rich and well-travelled,who were used to dining in restaurants. By the late 1950´s it had begun to appear on less exalted domestic dining tables and its aficianados, like my mother, were quick to spread the word of their new discovery.In addition to this the avocado soon took off as the "in" colour for home decorating, paint wallpaper,bathroom suites, glassware, tableware and much more.

I remember my mother serving Avocado vinaigrette as a starter to her dinner guests.My father turned his nose up at it,but for many others like myself, eating this dish may well have been their introduction to avocados.
Avocado Vinaigrette had become a traditional recipe for an entrée, which acknowledges that so scrumptious is the avocado that it is in little need of embellishment. 

The Avocado: Cut the avocados in half lengthways and gently twist the halves to separate. To remove the seed, insert a sharp knife into it, then twist and lift out.  Brush the surfaces with lemon juice and place the avocado halves on 4 serving plates, shake the dressing again and drizzle it evenly over the avocado halves.
Serve with buttered toast triangles (so retro)

Adapted from a recipe in The Readers digest family recipe scrapbook

I thought I would take inspiration from my mothers way of serving an avocado which is now laughably passé and turn it into something more "now", and hopefuly more in keeping with how we like to use and eat avocados today  -an avocado vinaigrette,same  name but a completely different way of serving it.
The avocado in this dressing makes it so silky creamy that you’ll have a hard time believing there isn’t dairy in it. Use your favourite extra virgin olive oil and fresh, bright lemon juice and you’ll have a new "house" dressing. This stuff now lives in a bottle (I like having bottles of homemade dressings) in our fridge. 
I am now quite open to a generous libation of some of that vinaigrette on any one of my standard  green salads
 Avocado vinaigrette
 Makes: 1 cup dressing
(this will leave you with plenty to jar up and store in the refrigerator)
1 ripe avocado
Juice of one lemon 
300ml extra virgin olive oil
125ml white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon Flor de sal
1/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
1 clove garlic
generous sprinkling of Herbes de provence

Salt and pepper, to taste
Make the vinaigrette by placing all the ingredients in a food processor until well emulsified.
     The inspiration - Restaurant Maison es in Wan Chai Hong Kong
    Thai - ger prawn cocktail 
    loosely inspired by Restaurant Maison es in Wan Chai Hong Kong
    Serves 3
    A modern, lighter version of the retro starter, prawn cocktail.
    The prawn cocktail has been around now for a good 30 years, and has spent most of it coming in and mostly out of fashion.The mixture of lettuce, prawns and Marie Rose sauce has seen countless amounts of tinkering, not all of them well judged, and now tends to make its appearance with something of an ironic wink.In this southeast-Asian-influenced version Chinese leaf replaces the lettuce,french beans are introduced along with sriracha sauce fresh chilli and Thai fish sauce.
    The perfect way to start an outdoor lunch. Now leaving its 70s baggage behind, it can get on with being what it is – a thoroughly delicious salad.  

    60g Chinese leaf or white cabbage, finely shredded
    20g Thai basil, chopped (or half tarragon, half mint if you can't get it)
    9 raw tiger prawns, peeled and de-veined (leave the tail fan on three of them)
    60g French beans, topped, tailed and cut into 1cm pieces
    80g cherry tomatoes, halved
    1 avocado cut into dice
    cayenne pepper
    ½ lime

    For the sauce:
    3 tbsps mayonnaise
    1 tbsp sriracha sauce
    1 tbsp finely chopped fresh red chilli
    1 tsp fish sauce
    juice of ½ lime
    Mix the cabbage and nearly all the basil and put in the bottom of three martini glasses. Bring a small saucepan of salted water to the boil. Plunge the prawns into the water, turn the heat down and poach for four minutes. Leave them to cool on a plate. Scatter the French beans and tomatoes on top of the cabbage.
    Mix together all the sauce ingredients. Roughly chop six of the prawns (the ones without the pretty tail bits) and stir into the sauce. Divide the mixture between the glasses, then scatter on the last of the basil.
    Top each glass with your presentation prawn and a sprinkle of cayenne, and finish with a wedge of lime and perhaps a cocktail umbrella for decoration?

    NOTE:Avocados do not "ripen" on the tree, that is, they do not get soft while on the tree. Once you pick an avocado, it takes about 7 to 10 days for it to soften when left at room temperature. You can speed the process up slightly by placing the avocado in a bag with some other ripe fruit (like an apple) or slow the process down by keeping the fruit in the refrigerator.

    Saturday, 1 October 2016

    Bata Que Ele abriu outra

     Can you beat it!? He´s done it again.One of the most renowned chefs in Portugal, Jose Avillez, has opened yet another restaurant that is sure to become an instant Lisbon classic.Can you believe it, this 37 year old maestro  now owns seven restaurants, six in Lisbon and one in Oporto.This, his seventh venture, is located in Chiado close to his other foodie destinations, Belcanto, Minibar,Pizzaria Avillez, Café Avillez and Cantinho de Avillez.
    The name of chef José Avillez‘ seventh food project couldn’t be more accurate too; Bairro do Avillez literally translated means Avillez’ neighborhood. It is indeed the beloved neighbourhood of the two-star Michelin chef. His latest food adventure is located in a former convent, the Trindade Convent, which seems to be the perfect place for such heavenly, mouthwatering food, as foodies might agree,or perhaps they might not.
    We ate there for lunch on our last day in Lisbon and we wished we had discovered it earlier! We had, but it was the weekend and we couldn´t get near the place. The punters were being drawn to it like moths to a flame.It was the "the new place" to be seen. A destination for Lisbon ladies who lunch after a fitting or a spot of shopping.Their game given away by the profusion of Paris Lisboa carrier bags packed full of Claus Porto guest soaps on the floor beside the tables. If Eça de queiroz was alive today this would surely be a restaurant frequented by the characters of The Maias.
    I don´t even know where to begin. The menu is full of surprises. First you are given a sheet of paper and a pencil and you basically have to tick boxes to tell the kitchen what you feel like eating. SUCH FUN!!! and like tapas you can repeat this  process as many times as you want.
    Some dishes are rather small but are all quite cheap, very elegantly presented and most importantly, all of them were unbelievably delicious!
    We ordered the Alfacinha de bacalhau crocante, the saladinha de orelha de morcego( bat ear salad more on that story later) steak sandwich,tuna steak with polenta, the aged steak, a selection of Portuguese Charcuterie from his partnership with Manteigaria Silva Espargos e congumelos nas brasas com caviar de beringela fumada molho de iogurte com coentros e hortela ( Grilled asparagus with mushrooms and smoked eggplant. )

    (a direita) Naco de atum com polenta,piso de ervas e pinhões

    (em fundo)
    Alfacinha de bacalhau crocante

    Congumelos nas brasas com caviar de beringela fumada molho de iogurte com coentros e hortela

     The view of the ceiling above

    The view of the ceiling above

    We finished with a selection of Portuguese cheeses 
    and the house chocolate cake baked in its own 
    Avillez branded baking parchment.All these dishes were cooked and presented in ways that are either very interesting or as twists on classic Portuguese dishes.
    On top of that, the atmosphere is  buzzing and you can observe the cooks enjoying going about their work 
    just a pips throw away from one´s table! I can't recommend this place enough, at least for lunch, one of the best meals we have had in Lisbon but not cheap (we didn´t expect it to be ) but for a very reasonable price!
    ( esquerdaBolo de chocolate de taberna 

    Prego de lombo a casa em bolo de caco
    Not everybody it seems was in agreement with us,in particular the Portuguese customers.I doubt this kind of criticism would be levied on Portugal´s national treasure Ronaldo,so why is this outstanding chef who has done more for his country culturally than kicking a ball around been knocked in this way.

    This is what some of the most recent reviews have said about taberna... 

     "Junk food"
    fashion site for tourists. inattentive service, lousy food produced in an industrial canteen kitchen the best style of McDonalds ....

    Buzzy atmosphere, otherwise hit-and-miss

    "The staff are mostly clueless, as if, based on looks or something, they'd been dropped in there at random like in a survival-type reality TV show. The ugliest person there was the only one who seemed to know what he was doing".

    "The customers were better dressed and better looking than the food"

    O atendimento é desorganizado, lento e não prima pela simpatia. Na taberna, as mesas estão tão próximas que quase parecia que tínhamos combinado sair com o casal da mesa ao lado. Fica desconfortável.
     It´s a taberna for goodness sake

    Cobrar 4 euros por dois mini croquetes de novilho é obsceno. Ainda para mais porque a fritura, demasiado intensa, tornou a cobertura do croquete muito amarga.
    O casal da mesa ao lado pediu uma sanduíche de porco em bolo do caco. Ficamos todos surpreendidos com o reduzido tamanho, tendo em conta o preço (9€). De uma forma geral, as doses são muito pequenas.

    What did they expect a whopping great hamburger in an English muffin?

    It appears perhaps we were in a completely different restaurant as I can not identify with any of these complaints.This is a class act of creative modern Portuguese food and I would expect to pay the price for it.We will definitely be returning to continue where we left off and in particular for pica pau and the milho frito and some other great items from this extensive menu.Whats up next Snr.Avillez?

    There he goes! He’s doing again! Opening yet another restaurant that is sure to be an instant Lisbon classic. Popular and respected Portuguese chef José Avillez opens a new restaurant in Chiado, near foodie favorites Belcanto, Minibar, Café Avillez, Pizzaria Avillez and Cantinho do Avillez. The casual venue is aptly named Bairro (“neighborhood”) do Avillez, featuring a variety of areas akin to your local neighborhood.

    Read more at:
    There he goes! He’s doing again! Opening yet another restaurant that is sure to be an instant Lisbon classic. Popular and respected Portuguese chef José Avillez opens a new restaurant in Chiado, near foodie favorites Belcanto, Minibar, Café Avillez, Pizzaria Avillez and Cantinho do Avillez. The casual venue is aptly named Bairro (“neighborhood”) do Avillez, featuring a variety of areas akin to your local neighborhood.

    Read more at:

    Wednesday, 28 September 2016

    A tale of the the Spanish inner sole, an Italian slipper and a Beef Wellington

    What is it with shoes and artesan bread?-Food and feet, if its the shoe that fits the foot I will buy it and wear it. I have to confess that while I won't cram my feet into shoes which are too small, if I really want a pair that are a shade too big, I'll happily pad them out with insoles.When purchasing an inner sole recently I noticed that there seems to be a certain similarity between slippers inner soles and some types of bread.Take for example Ciabatta. It was hailed in the nineties as the saviour of the Italian bread industry, and rocked the sandwich world globally.It soon became the Mother's Pride of the chattering British  classes and by the time Nessun Dorma rang out from Italia '90, it was one of the most popular of the new range of `exotic mediterranean breads´.
     Just take one look at it.For a start it´s a ridiculous shape.It's pointless slicing it as you would, say, a pan loaf for a sandwich - a pair of the resulting bread slivers would offer little shelter for your bacon or cheddar, and most fillings would slop wildly out of the sides.Yet slicing horizontally can be a risky business too, requiring advanced knife-skills to retain one's upper fingers. And then there's the name. If that's the shape of a slipper, then how did  beef wellington acquire its name when it is something I put on my feet when it's muddy outside.
    The inventor of ciabatta Francesco Favaron, a baker from Verona, apparently looked at it and thought, 'What can I call it?' Then  thought that it was similar to his wife Andreina´s ciabatta( slipper ), so he called it 'ciabatta'.
    There is so much you can do with ciabatta sandwich wise and supper-wise, and its great for rustling up a smart picnic item - Pan bagna.While on the lines of pressed sandwiches why not use your ciabatta to make a pressed panini for a quick and easy weekday supper.
    Supper in a slipper -My Cubano Tuna Melt
    400g (14oz can tuna, drained
    1 tablespoon lemon zest
    2 cups grated cheddar cheese
    1 red onion sliced
    2 tomatoes sliced
    1/2 cup spinach leaves
    1/4 cup mayonnaise
    2 large flat breads

    Put the tuna, lemon zest, and onion in a bowl with the mayonnaise and mix until just combined adding more mayo if it needs it. Slice the ciabatta in half  horizontally and make a bed of half the spinach leaves on it. Spread the mayonnaise mixture over the leaves followed by a layer of sliced tomatoes.Top with the rest of the spinach leaves and sprinkle the grated cheddar to cover. Put the tops back on the flat bread.  Heat a cast iron pan on medium low for about 3-5 minutes while you assemble the sandwich.
    Put enough olive oil (you can use butter or veg. oil) in the pan, let it heat for a minute and gently place the sandwich in the  pan. Weigh down with whatever works for you. I use another cast iron pan and a set of weights, a handy tea kettle filled with water would do the same job.Cook low and slow, checking after about 3 minutes. Flip and repeat.
    Eat and enjoy.

    Another example is the artesan  Spanish crackers that look like inner soles.Spanish cuisine offers a wide variety of artisan bread and crackers, from Galician bread with its crisp crust and light, airy interior to classic 'picos' and pipas, to crunchy tortas de aceite and crackers coming in every shape, size and form.
    In bars and cafes across Spain you will almost always find  'picos' , great with a bowl of olives and a glass of wine. These classic snacks are also a great crunchy accompaniment to soups, salads or tapenades.

    Did you know that the first insoles were actually made by innkeepers, not shoemakers? Weary travelers often complained about tired, aching feet, so innkeepers developed insoles for travelers to put in their shoes to alleviate pain. The insoles were like matted pads that were made out of animal hair; nothing like the ones we use today,but looking very similar to the crackers that I spread my dips, jamon, muxama and soft cheeses on.
    Anyone found any little shoe shaped breads ? -I´d love to hear from you.