Thursday, 29 October 2015

Toffee apples and tonka bean ice cream

Oh how, come Halloween, I loved toffee apples. Nothing beats the crunch of a toffee apple on a crisp, parky autumnal evening.No Halloween or bonfire night party was ever complete without some traditional toffee apples. I am far too old for sweet treats,bonfires, burning effigies, and neither am I any longer a trick or a treat. 
However I thought I would re-kindle these childhood memories with a more adult Halloween trick,a little dark bean that supposedly can make your wishes come true.It actually turned out to be a simply delicious treat.Grown up toffee apples with tonka bean ice cream ticks all the boxes for a Halloween dinner dessert. I took it it even further and deconstructed a Granny Smith apple to obtain a mixture of different textures and flavours that one could play with on  the same plate.Granny Smith apple, apple crisp, caramelised apples  julienned fresh apple and a dusting of sweet crumble.The sweetness of the milky custard  smooth golden tonka bean ice cream was the perfect foil for all these different textures. Sweet and sour apple,crunchy sticks of raw apple, the smoothness of the caramel infusing a mellow soft toffee flavour into the apple segments.All brought together by a dusting of  crumble.
My particular choice of Tonka bean for this dessert was the fact that every time I eat food that has been infused with Tonka It induces me to dream,. I often find the same toxicity in nutmeg.So what better for a Halloween dinner than for everyone to toddle off to bed and be mildly transported to the dark side.
In the Pagan and Occult tradition, the Tonka bean is believed to have magical properties. Mages believe that crushed Tonka beans brewed in herbal tea may help to cure the soul, relieve symptoms of depression and confusion, chase away negative thoughts and boost the immune system. It is also believed that holding the bean in one hand, while whispering a wish, leads to its fulfillment.
Just remember: While the Tonka bean might not be able to grant you all your wishes, your culinary ones should be well served.  Just keep your indulgence in healthy, non-toxic moderation
Tonka bean ice cream
200 ml carton cream
500 ml  whole milk
6 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
25 ml  maple syrup or mild flavoured  honey
1  Tonka bean, freshly grated (
Note: you could probably use as little as ½-3/4 grated bean and still achieve good results)

Pour the cream and the milk together in a saucepan. Add the grated Tonka bean and bring to a simmering almost-boil. Take off from the heat and leave to infuse for about 15 minutes.In another bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and the sugar. Add the maple syrup (or honey).Slowly, begin to strain- little by little - the recently heated dairy/tonka mixture into the yolk-sugar mixture while whisking at thesame time.
When everything has been well whisked together, pour the blend into the saucepan and - while whisking fairly constantly - bring to a custard consistency,being sure not tolet it curdle.
Take the ice cream  from the heat and cool it down as quickly as possible (by using an iced water bath, for example).Once it has cooled down, Place the ice cream base in the refrigerator to mature, preferably over night.Then, churn the chilled base in your ice cream machine according to instructions (or, in case you have no machine,freeze in your 
refrigerator churning every few hours to stop crystals forming).Put in a freezer-safe container, cover with plastic film and lid and store in the freezer.

Toffee apples
4 granny smith apples,peeled cored and cut into segments 
3 tablespoons superfine caster sugar 
I teaspoon ground cinnamon
Toss the apple segments with the sugar cinnamon and 2 tablespoons water.
Tip them into a heavy based frying over a medium heat and let them caramelise and brown.turn each of the segments as they begin to caramelise and take them out when they are cooked on both sides 

For the apple crisps and raw julienne
Heat oven to 140C/120C fan/gas 1. Thinly slice the apple through the core – use a mandolin, if you have one, to get thin slices. Arrange the slices on a baking tray lined with parchment and bake for 40 mins. Cool until crisp.

While the crisps are in the oven  cut juliennes of raw apple and sprinkle with lemon juice to stop them browning.Set aside.
For the crumble
Make a small amount of crumble topping from flour butter and light muscavado sugar
a good formula to follow is half the quantity of butter to flour and half the amount of sugar to flour.Rub all together with your fingers till you have  a mix similar to coarse breadcrumbs.Spread out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake until aromatic and crispy. 

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

The turnover of the season- spiced pear and white port

 Oh my god, how I used to love my mother´s apple turnovers.When the nights start drawing in and there´s a nip in the air, our thoughts turn to baking. Autumn fruits, plums, pears, apples and blackberries are plentiful and combined with warm spices and flaky puff pastry, one´s kitchen is guaranteed to be filled with the homey aromas of autumn.
These little lovelies are much more sophisticated than the turnovers from my childhood.These are turnovers for grown-ups.They are filled with a very subtle natural sweetness of pears and dates.The dates are the only sweetener here and pair well with an infusion of ginger cinnamon and allspice.Turnovers are often made as a sort of portable snack or dessert and therefore make a great healthy option for lunch boxes and picnics.Their storage options are also good.....
Turnovers are best enjoyed the same day you bake them, but they can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days; refresh them in a 300°F (150°C) oven for 6 minutes.
Unbaked turnovers can be stored in the freezer, individually wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 2 weeks. You can bake them directly from the freezer—just add 5 to 8 minutes to the baking time and proceed as directed.)
    Spiced pear and white port turnovers
    For the filling
    6 to 8 pitted and finely chopped Medjool dates
    1/4 teaspoon baking soda
    3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter
    5 or 6 ripe mrdium Rocha pears, peeled, cored, and chopped into small dice
    2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    1 teaspoon ground ginger
    1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
    Pinch ground cloves
    1/4 teaspoon flor de sal

    1/4  cup / 60ml of good quality white port

    For the turnovers
    About 1 pound commercial or homemade puff pastry
    1 large egg, lightly beaten
    2 tablespoons heavy cream

        To make the filling, Put the dates and baking soda in a small bowl and add enough hot water to cover the dates. Stir to dissolve the baking soda, which will soften the skins of the dates and allow them to blend more easily into the pears. Let the dates soak for 10 to 15 minutes. Drain the dates and, using a spoon or a fork, mash them slightly until they’re smooth and soft.
        In a medium sized pan, melt the butter over medium heat and add the mashed dates, pears, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves, and salt. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes, or until the dates and pears are starting to soften and the spices are well distributed. At this point the pears will seem dry, add the 1/4 cup (60 ml) white port. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes more. You want the dates to dissolve into the pears and the pears to soften somewhat, so keep cooking until you have a soft pear compote. Remove from the heat and let cool. You should have about 3 1/2 cups. (The compote can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week and can be used for breakfast with yoghurt cut through)

        To make the turnovers, place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°F (175°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
        On a well-floured work surface, roll the puff pastry into a thin rectangle. Cut out 8 4" (10cm) identical squares.

        Place about 1/3 cup (80 grams) pear compote off centre in each square. (You will probably have some pear compote left over) Using the back of a spoon, spread the compote a little so it fills half the square diagonally and leave a little empty lip around the filling to allow for the sealing of the dough triangle. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the empty pastry dough with the egg wash. Carefully fold the egg-washed dough over the compote and use your fingers to pinch the turnover triangle together. Use the tines of the fork to firmly press the edges of the turnover together and make sure the turnover is well sealed. Repeat with the remaining dough and pear compote. Reserve any remaining egg wash. 
         Transfer the turnovers to the prepared baking sheet. Add the cream to the remaining egg wash and whisk with a fork. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the tops of the turnovers with the egg-cream mixture. Bake until the dough is entirely browned and baked through, 50 to 60 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let the pear turnovers cool on the baking sheet on a wire rack for at least 1 hour before serving to allow the filling to cool. The turnovers are best enjoyed the same day you bake them, but they can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days; refresh them in a 300°F (150°C) oven for 6 minutes

        Wednesday, 7 October 2015

        Paella rojo con vino tinto a marriage of three nations


        What do you get when you mix bomba rice and belota salame 
        with a fruity Portuguese red wine from the Douro?

        Days are getting shorter, the weather is cooling, and we aren't quite ready for summer to be over, but we're embracing autumn with open (sweater covered) arms.It is time to start thinking about slightly more hearty dishes. There are so many recipes that call for red wine.That does not mean the ropy old vin de table that remains screw-toppedly half opened by the side of the cooker, but that fruity little gran reserva you have been saving for that special occasion.
        It is a truism that there is no point cooking with bad wine,and that the better the wine deployed,the better the dish.This is  a sort of contradiction in terms, for there is not much else you can do with left over wine than cook with it.However when a wine is truly past it,whether its corked or just too old, it´s not going to do much for your cooking.Red wines tend to last longer than whites and this is generally as true when you cook with them as when you drink them.Colour is a good key.When your fresh and fruity country red turns to a vapid and acidic rosé, its gone.I dont know why I just said that, as cooking with "good" rose is not much cop anyway.Wine for cooking,of course, is more likely to be left over from the night before than than from the year before last.Half finished bottles should be married up,,have a cork stuck in them and be kept in the fridge, this will keep them serviceable for a week.If you don´t have leftovers then a robust country red bought for the purpose need not cost very much.There are times and recipes  when left overs just will not do and you have to bite the bullet and you need to fork out for a wine that really fits the bill.Generally speaking,the better the wine,the less you have to cook it.
        In the following recipe the wine never really boils  as its flavours are absorbed by the rice, and its earthy flavour makes for a truly unusual and outstanding dish.The dish is loosely adapted from a recipe by the late great Marcella Hazan in her Second Classic Italian Cook Book,in which she uses arborio rice,Italian salami and a fruity Italian red from Piedmont such as a Gattinara,Spanna,Barolo or Barbera dolcetto.A California Barbera would also work  beautifully. 
        I however used an Esperão Assobio,a Portuguese wine from the Douro with a deep ruby colour. It is spicy and fruity, revealing an elegant palate showing youthful fruit and fine tannins with good balancing acidity on the finish. Ms. Hazan said" No one who conceived this dish thought small".This is no light,tripping springtime risotto for feeble appetites.What I produced was a merger of three lusty dishes, a risotto from Piedmont and a paella from the marjal de pego paddy fields in the region of Valencia.This recipe also references one of my favourite Algarvian recipes- favas algarvia ( broad beans with bacon and chouriço)

        Paella rojo con vino tinto
        serves 6
        1 onion
        2 sticks of celery
        2 carrots
        2 small turnips
        150g spanish belota salame in one piece
        50g butter plus more to stir in at the end of cooking
        250g bomba (paella) rice
        1 bottle of fruity red wine,Barbera, Dolcetto or Assobio
        Half a cabbage (about 300g )
        400g fava beans podded cooked and skins removed
        chicken stock
        olive oil

        Chop the onion, celery stalks, carrots and turnip into small cubes.Stew vigorously in 3 tablespoons of olive oil.Cut the salami the same size and add to the vegetables.Cook gently for 5 minutes then add 50g butter.When melted, pour in the rice and season with salt and pepper.When well coated and starting to stick to the pan pour in all the wine, stir gently bringing just to the boil.When this in turn starts to stick, begin adding the stock a ladleful at the time.It will take about 15 minutes careful and watchful cooking for the rice to become tender.
        While the rice  is cooking shred the cabbage ad blanch briefly in boiling water.Drain and add to the rice with the broad beans.Serve in a large terracotta dish and let everyone help themselves.

        Saturday, 3 October 2015

        Salame de figo e amêndoa -simples real


        Cooking is not always about doing the right thing, but can be about being able to create a new masterpiece when something goes wrong....As you well know this happened to me recently and I created a Christmas cake out of what was potentially fig soup.Never one to be defeated I have now returned to the original recipe I was trying to make in the first place, and having read it properly I purchased dried figs as opposed to fresh and set about making the fig salami.How could anything simple (just 4 ingredients) have gone  so disastrously wrong?
        Salami de figo
        the original recipe originates in Italy,but I have adapted it so I could use lovely Algarvian ingredients like almonds and Algarvian liqueurs

        Makes one 15" (35cm) long roll

        1 pound (500g) dried figs,preferably not too hard
        4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar reduced by 1/2 over heat to a syrup
        1 tablespoon almond liqueur
        1 tablespoon orange liqueur
        1/2 cup coarsely chopped almonds or a mix of walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts 

        Chop the figs into small pieces.Place in a food processor with the liquids and the nuts, and pulse until the mixture clumps together.Add a little more liqueur if needed.
        Turn out onto a work service with aluminium foil covered with fig leaves. Shape the mixture into a log about 15" (35cm)long.Roll the fig leaves around the log and apply pressure with your fingers so they adhere to the log.Loosely bring the foil up over the fig leaves so it loosely covers the log..Leave the log to rest at room temperature until it firms up and forms a skin (about 2 weeks).Then wrap the log in foil and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.The fig paste is best after a month,as it will be firmer and therefore easier to slice.Use a sharp knife dipped in hot water.Slice thin and serve with goat´s or sheep´s milk cheeses and a few toasted almonds.