Friday, 16 January 2015

Um algo pequeno para o fim de semana, bolos de laranja macios

 someone´s already taken a bite out of one

When someone says cooking something from scratch is as easy as buying it ready-made, it's usually just not true.One advantage however is that you can customise to your own taste,and sometimes it customises itself.
 I love it when I can easily make something at home and it turns out to be just as good or better than the more expensive shop version.Home made foods can be infinitely superior if you have the time, and making it yourself can save you a lot of money.As you are aware I have been trying to recreate a lot of childhood favourites.Just before Christmas I cured my own ox tongue as opposed to going out and buying buying it industrially sliced in a hermetically sealed plastic pack.I rekindled memories of shopping with my nanna and buying bounty bars.When making Brownies I always have a jar of home made chocolate syrup in the fridge and also my own customised salt caramel.These are both expensive items if purchased in the supermarket.Since living in Portugal I have always made all our jams and preserves that grace our guests´ breakfast and dinner table.Rum and raisin ice cream was an all time favourite and I made my own customised version with a little help from the Clarke´s of Moro.So you see with a little time,patience and ingenuity you can create some of your own favourite comestibles and I do hope we might see this as a trend in the year ahead.
Imagine my excitement when I found a recipe for Jaffa cakes on pinterest.Well it gave me one dilemma and that was that we dont have Jaffa or Shamouti ( as they are sometimes called) oranges in Portugal.I could not call them Jaffa cakes so they would have to be Seville Orange cakes.Being me I refused to use shop bought jelly, and therefore decided in its place to make my own Seville Orange jelly.Having never made these before I stayed true to the recipe (with the exception of not being able to resist making a home made jelly),but along the production line I encountered a lot of hiccups.Whether my muffin tray has bigger wells than the author´s I don´t know, but my first attempt at making the sponge bases was unsuccessful to say the least.Having followed the recipe I was hard pushed to make my batter stretch to twelve portions and ended up with slithers of sponge bases.Not to be deterred I increased the proportion by half again and this time got succesful sponge bases but only eight.I suggest if you are embarking on this challenging project that you are braver than me in the final stage of the recipe.I had conniptions about pouring melted hot chocolate over the jelly I was so proud of having created.I thought it would melt the jelly so I let the chocolate cool slightly and as you can see from the picture I had some difficulty in getting a smooth presentation in my topping .In hindsight here the logic is that if the chocolate is hot it will seal in the jelly, avoiding jelly seepage which my little lovelies experienced.
Just before we crack on with the recipe,a whimsical aside. I read recently that it is highly debated whether the orange-flavoured snack is a cake or a biscuit, but in a court case Scottish company McVities argued that the distinction between cakes and biscuits is, among other things, that biscuits would normally be expected to go soft when stale, whereas cakes would normally be expected to go hard. It was proved that Jaffa Cakes become hard when stale.I dont think mine will be around long enough to become stale.See what you think? Here is my take( at half the price) on yet another of my childhood tea-time treats.Even if you mess them up,they are well worth the effort and I implore you to try them.You´ll only regret it if you don´t.
2.5kg Seville oranges juiced and passed through a fine sieve
(This should give you 750ml juice)
500g jam setting sugar with added pectin
4 tbsp Lemon juice
1 tablespoon of Seville orange marmalade
Pour the orange juice into a medium sized pan.Add the sugar. Bring to the boil,stirring constantly and boil for a maximum of 15 minutes less if the juice starts to show signs of setting.It will look fairly liquid in the pan but it will start to set as it cools.Allow it to cool completely.You should now have a litre of Orange pectin.When it is cool measure out 500ml of liquid and stir in the marmalade Soak 5 leaves of gelatin in cold water for five minutes to soften.Squeeze out as much water as you can and then in a small pan with 100ml of warm water stir in the gelatine stirring until it has completely dissolved.Pour this into the orange pectin and then Pour this mixture into a shallow-sided baking tray or large dish to form a 1cm/½in layer of jelly. Set aside until completely cooled, then chill in the fridge until set.

Quantities adjusted by a half more from original recipe
3 free-range eggs
75g/3oz caster sugar
75g/3oz plain flour, sieved

200g/7oz good quality dark chocolate, 
minimum 70 per cent cocoa solids, broken into pieces

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.
For the cakes, bring a little water to the boil in a pan, then reduce the heat until the water is simmering. Suspend a heatproof bowl over the water (do not allow the base of the bowl to touch the water). Add the eggs and sugar to the bowl and beat continuously for 4-5 minutes, or until the mixture is pale, fluffy and well combined.
Add the flour, beating continuously, until a thick, smooth batter forms.
Half-fill each well in a 12-hole muffin tin with the cake batter. Transfer the tin to the oven and bake the cakes for 8-10 minutes, or until pale golden-brown and cooked through (the cakes are cooked through when a skewer inserted into the centre of the cakes comes out clean.) Remove from the oven and set the cakes aside, still in their tray, until cool.  When the jelly has set and the cakes have cooled, cut small discs from the layer of jelly, equal in diameter to the cakes. Sit one jelly disc on top of each cake.
Bring a little water to the boil in a pan, then reduce the heat until the water is simmering. Suspend a heatproof bowl over the water (do not allow the base of the bowl to touch the water). Add the chocolate and stir until melted, smooth and glossy, then pour over the cakes. Set aside until the melted chocolate has cooled and set.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Left overs for real

Was I imagining it, or did the newspapers seem to be bombarding us with articles about how to make use of our seasonal leftovers before we´d even cooked our Christmas dinner? Leftovers are becoming so fashionable among the foodie journos these days.But lets get one thing straight - what is a leftover?
Leftovers are the uneaten edible remains of a meal after the meal is over,and everyone has finished eating(basically, items of food that you have cooked too much of).These items do not include sausages that you have not yet cooked, but have apparently been over purchased and therefore escaped the Wednesday supper.People seem to think cheese and cured meats, like slices of ham, are left overs.No they are not, and neither is a tin of plum tomatoes that hasn´t been opened. Journalists and TV chefs are are telling us how to cook things that we have simply over purchased and if you listen to them, very often it is necessary to go shopping again to create a leftover recipe.Well I feel very disappointed, but worthy too, that this year we had no left overs apart from a few roast vegetables, gravy and carcass which all went to make some great soup.Now we are open for business again,I am starting to accrue left overs either from guests requesting small portions or not being able to portion control when cooking for one.The thespian´s home cured ham is now coming to the end of its life, and therefore what it is going to create I definitely constitute as left overs.Last night I knocked up a classic left over dish of Chicken, ham and leek pie. A traditional turkey or chicken and ham pie contains lots of vegetable and is the perfect 'use up' dish. You can add almost any veg, you have to hand, to your pie and along with a good (and I'm talking "good to big") knob of butter and a tablespoon of Creme Fraiche D'Isigny - my favourite creme fraiche.  The D'Isigny type has a lovely savouriness about it that comes from a slight hint of cheesiness - which goes so, so well with savoury dishes.
The only thing I did not have, and actually had to purchase to make this dish, was a leek. Ready rolled puff pastry was in the fridge, and the ham as I said came from the thespians prize cure.The chicken was left over from a one pot chicken casserole I had cooked for the guest who wanted only a small portion.With the help of the dregs of a bottle of white wine and the already opened tub of creme fraiche I was able to unleash a sumptuous and creamy meat pie bubbling with left over goodness.Tonight we are having the last remains of the ham tossed into a creamy wine sauce with peas and Fettucine (see below)

Left over Chicken ham and leek  pie (top)

  • 450ml/16fl oz chicken stock
  • 250g left over chicken pieces,breast thigh or drumstick chopped 
  • 75g/3oz butter
  • 1 fat leek, trimmed and cut into 1cm/½in slices
  • 2 left over roasted garlic cloves, crushed out of their skin
  • 50g/2oz plain flour
  • 200ml/7fl oz milk
  • 2-3 tbsp white wine (optional)
  • 150ml/3fl oz creme fraiche
    2 tsp spoon Dijon mustard
  • 150g/5oz piece thickly carved left over ham, cut into 2cm chunks
  • Flor de sal to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper
Melt 25g/1oz of the butter in a large heavy-based saucepan over a low heat. Stir in the leek and fry gently for two minutes, stirring occasionally until just softened. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute. Add the remaining butter and stir in the flour as soon as the butter has melted. Cook for 30 seconds, stirring constantly.
Slowly pour the milk into the pan, just a little at a time, stirring well between each adding. Gradually add 250ml/10fl oz of the stock and the wine, if using, stirring until the sauce is smooth and thickened slightly. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 3 minutes.
Season the mixture, to taste, with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Remove from the heat and stir in the creme fraiche and mustard. Stir in the chicken and shredded ham. Set aside to cool.
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.
Line a large rectangular pie dish with ready rolled puff pastry Portioning off enough pastry for the lid.
Spoon the chicken, ham and leek mixture into the pastry lined pie dishand smooth it out. Brush the rim of the dish with beaten egg. Roll out the reserved pastry for the lid.
Cover the pie with the pastry lid and press the edges together firmly to seal. Trim any excess pastry.
Cut a few horizontal cuts along the lid of the pie with the tip of a knife
to let the steam escape.Glaze the top of the pie with beaten egg. Bake in the centre of the oven for 35-40 minutes or until the pie is golden-brown all over and the filling is piping hot. 

Fettucine with left over ham cream and peas
Serves 4
115g/4oz unsmoked  left over cooked ham
50g/2oz butter
2 shallots,very finely chopped
135g/3oz fresh or frozen peas
Flor de sal and freshly ground black pepper
150ml/1/4 pint/2/3 cup double cream
350g/12oz Fettucine
50g /172 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
Chopped fresh parsley to garnish
Cut the fat from the ham and chop both lean and fat parts separately into small squares.
Melt the butter in a medium frying pan and add the shallots,peas and the squares of ham fat.Cook until golden.Add the lean ham, and cook for 2 minutes more.Season with black pepper.Stir in the cream and keep warm over a low heat while the pasta is cooking.
boil the pasta in a large pan of rapidly boiling salted water. Cook according to manufacturers instructions and drain when al dente.Turn into awarmed serving bowl,and toss with the sauce.Stir in the cheese and serve at once,garnished with the chopped parsley.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

"The grapefruit juice effect",grapefruit marmalade,a risky business

Its January and that means its grapefruit time in the Algarve,This year there seems to be a bumper crop and I have just been given some gorgeous ruby red grapefruits from a friend who grows them. I just adore grapefruit and I thought I would kick the marmalade season off by attempting something I have never tried before, a grapefruit marmalade. I was first introduced to this bitter,sour somewhat exotic fruit at a hotel breakfast table in the sixties.They're big, they´re sour, have tough membranes, big seeds and bitter flesh. People used to douse them in sugar and prise the flesh out with a special knife or spoon specifically designed for this purpose, just to get one little morsel...of an acquired taste.No,no,no this fruit deserves more respect than that.
But the poor grapefruit has been getting a bad rap over the last couple of years.Research has shown us that the number of drugs that can be risky when taken with grapefruit is on the rise.There are now more than 85 drugs that may interact with grapefruit. The list includes some statins that lower cholesterol (such as atorvastatin, lovastatin, and simvastatin), some antibiotics, cancer drugs, and heart drugs. Most at risk are older people who use more prescriptions and buy more grapefruit.
This is what happens: Grapefruit contains furanocoumarins, which block an enzyme that normally breaks down certain medications in the body. When it is left unchecked, medication levels can grow toxic in the body.
It’s not just grapefruits, either. Other citrus fruits such as Seville oranges (often used in marmalade), limes, and pomelos also contain the active ingredients (furanocoumarins), but have not been as widely studied.
Far from being the harbinger of bad news, I want all of you to enjoy the fruits of this wonderful pamplemousse, so if you were not previously aware of this issue,which came to me via one of our guests,please before you proceed, just check online or with your GP if you are on medication, enjoy eating grapefruit, and want to make this recipe.

Ruby red grapefruit and ginger marmalade 
The added colour of the fruit gives a lovely blush to the finished marmalade, so try to find the ruby red variety rather than just a pink one. 
Makes 2.5kg (5-6lb)
Preparation time 1 hour
Cooking time about 3 hours
1 kg (2lbs) ruby red grapefruit,washed and quartered
1 lemon,washed and quartered
2 litres(31/2 pints
1.5kg (3lb) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons of ground ginger and 100g(4oz) of chopped crystallised ginger preserved in syrup

Peel the grapefruits and lemon quarters.Remove the pips and tie them in a muslin bag.If the peel is really thick,remove most of the pith and put it in the bag also.
Cut the peel finely and place it in a large preserving pan with the chopped pulp and two types of ginger.Add the muslin bag and water.Bring to the boil and then simmer until the peel is soft.About 1-2 hours.
Remove the muslin bag.add the sugar and stir until dissolved.Bring to the boil and boil rapidly until setting point is reached-about 20-30 minutes.Remove any scum from the surface.
Ladle into cool sterilised jars and seal.Label and store.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Nuns and stiff wimples, pasteis de marmelada

Its winter time, egg yolks and wine, and over the past festive season what with making frosting for  the cake and perhaps a meringue pavlova or two I expect many of you have ended up with a glut of egg yolks. If so,here are some Portuguese solutions  that might ease the problem and avoid excessive waste and blocking up the kitchen sink.
With thanks to discerning wine drinkers and nuns, pastry production in Portugal has always been part of their culinary heritage.
Many of the country's typical pastries were created in monasteries by nuns and monks and sold as a means of supplementing their incomes. The main ingredient for these pastries was egg yolks. It is common belief that the medieval nuns used vast quantities of egg whites to stiffen their wimples, and therefore were forced to develop endless dessert recipes to use all the surplus yolks. However it is also known that Portugal had a big egg production, mainly between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
When wine (Port) started being exported abroad, the Portuguese found that wine consumers were preferring filtered wine, which gave a more clear and refined flavor. After experimenting in different filtering techniques, they concluded that using egg whites produced the best results.
The excess quantity of yolks, combined with plenty of sugar coming from the Portuguese colonies was the inspiration for the creation of wonderful recipes made from egg yolk. The names of these deserts are usually related to monastic life and to the Catholic faith. Examples are, among others, barriga de freira (nun's belly), papos de anjo (angel's breasts), and toucinho do céu (bacon from heaven). Other common ingredients in Portuguese convent confectionery are almonds, "doce de chila/gila" made from pumpkin or squash, wafer paper, and candied egg threads called "fios de ovos.
Today, the Portuguese still enjoy rich, egg-based desserts that are often seasoned with spices such as cinnamon and vanilla.
Perhaps the most popular is leite-crème or egg and milk custard. It consists of milk, flour, sugar, lemon zest, cinnamon and seven egg yolks, but the intriguing part of this recipe is the need for an iron. Yes, an iron.My first thought was that I was lost in translation but then I realised that before cheffy type blow torches were the rule of the game this would have been the only option in a conventual kitchen. After the custard has finished cooking, heat the base of a flat or cast iron over a high flame and apply it to the sugar for a few seconds to allow the sugar to caramelize. Using a blowtorch is now the modern equivalent, but when given the chance, who wouldn’t want to iron their dessert?
Most towns in Portugal have a local specialty, usually an egg or cream based pastry. Originally from Lisbon, but popular nationwide as well as among the diaspora, are my all time favourite, pastéis de nata.Here is my own seasonal variation on the theme of these, with marmelada (quince jam).

Quince Custard tart (pasteis de marmelada)
makes 18 tarts

150g (5oz) quince paste
1/2 cup ( 5 fl oz )orange juice

Melt the quince paste with the orange juice in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir well until completely combined, then remove from the heat and allow to cool.

500g Massa folhada (puff pastry)
140g single cream
4 egg yolks
75g caster sugar
A dash of vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 230C /450 gas 8
In a saucepan, beat the egg yolks and sugar till thick. Beat in the cream gradually and carefully heat, stirring till the mixture thickens to a custard. Be careful not to overheat or it will curdle. Remove at once and cool completely. Roll out the pastry to make 2  22cm x 18cm (10x 8in) oblongs and roll each one into a swiss roll shape.Cut into slices 2 cm thick. This is a clever technique, because instead of expanding upwards the puff pastry pushes outward, making a deep cup shape for each tart. Spread the rounds into into muffin pans, pressing down thoroughly with both thumbs. Scoop into each tart 1/2 teaspoon of of quince paste followed by a dessert spoon of the custard. Bake until the pastry is golden and the top is caramelised (10-15 minutes ).

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

The year of the "cad"

 One of my favourite songs back in the day was "Year of the cat" by Al Stewart, inspired by the film Casablanca.In a 2012 interview he described his writing philosophy —
If it’s already been written, why write it again? If it’s already been said, why say it again? I mean there are some remarkable quotes that I love. But I didn’t say them.
And you don’t want to pass them off as your own work. Napoleon said that “Time spent in reconnaissance is never wasted”.
And that, actually, has governed my life. You know what I mean? That’s a quote you can live by. But it’s not my quote. So if I say it I always credit it to Napoleon. There is another way of saying any of the things you want to say, rather than rehashing someone else’s words.
I bet you wonder where this is going? well this quote succinctly sums up what happened to this blog a few months back and still remains unresolved.When I started writing this blog four years ago all I wanted was to share with others my passion for food and cooking,and many of you have re-posted some of the recipes giving me an author´s credit.That is all I ever asked for, and that I would do the same in return.
Well back in October whilst visiting a friend, we inadvertently picked up a copy of a magazine for expats and on opening it, found one of the O Cozinheiro blog posts published word for word with absolutely no credit,and no credit for the photograph of which I had cleared copyright with its photographer.I had originally written the post in two languages,Portuguese and English.Not surprisingly the Portuguese transcript had been removed. 
I contacted the rogue publisher who freely publishes both his and his wife Ange´s mobile phone number alongside an advert in the magazine for his Karaoke bar in Tavira. I politely asked him how he was going to address the theft and plagiarism of our blog.He asked me what I wanted and I suggested financial compensation.He asked how much, and having both of us worked in magazines ourselves, related it to the fact that the space given was 2/3 of a page with a 1/3 page advert below and therefore asked for a realistic going rate per line per word.He grunted and reluctantly offered me an insulting 10% of that amount.I laughed and rejected his offer on the grounds that a manual labourer earns more than that in an hour.We then went down the avenue of him writing a full apology and credit in his next issue.He agreed verbally but has never since honoured his word.He informed us by email that his magazine was closing using the words "Another nail in the coffin for the East Algarve".(I dont think so).2 issues on and still no redress, we have contacted him again,without any response.
 The small print on the masthead of his magazine informs us that he is quite clearly a man of his word...

"All rights reserved.Except for normal review purposes,no part of this magazine may be reproduced without the written permission of the publisher. 
Every care has been taken in the preparation of this magazine"

Quite clearly they haven´t. He informed me my blog post was submitted to him by one of his readers who considered the content would be beneficial to Chef Noélia,no doubt it would.He failed to check with them the source of their submission and then failed to gain clearance with myself or the photographer before he published.
The man is a cad and quite clearly has no respect or integrity,and is making financial gain through cheap journalism which steals other peoples work.
A rogue, or bounder. A cad is a man who is aware of the codes of conduct which seperate a gentleman from a ruffian, but finds himself unable to quite live up to them. Cads are quite capable of disguising themselves as good chaps for some time, only revealing their true nature in circumstances of particular stress or temptation. Others embrace their caddishness whole-heartedly and delight in behaving in a manner which is, to be quite frank,dishonourable.

Happy New year to all honourable readers and please do ask if you would like to re-publish any content of this blog.I am sure I will be only to happy to oblige.To all you fellow bloggers out there,just beware of these rapists that come in the night and steal your work.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

My Portugal,my best christmas present

 “I like to define my cooking style as Portuguese-inspired, 
but also globally influenced,”  
Georges Mendes

A book is for life not just for Christmas, and having waited for so long I could not have been given a better Christmas present than Georges Mendes new book "My Portugal."Here is a book that I will cherish and use now and forever.
A Portuguese-American chef, Mendes has just celebrated five years at his well-regarded Flatiron restaurant Aldea,. His restaurant, offering traditional seasonal Portuguese cuisine but with his own international spin, earned him a Michelin star in 2011.
Aldea is a Portuguese word that means village or countryside and it’s actually inspired by a poem that his grandfather wrote in 1977 when as a child Mendes was visiting Portugal for the first time. It was a poem about the hard knocks of life and farming.
A first-generation American born to Portuguese farming stock, Mendes grew up with memories of home-cooked meals and salt cod soaking in the garage.He therefore came to cooking with vibrant traditions in his arsenal.
The title really reflects his upbringing and early visits as a child to Portugal, and going back as a teenager and again as an adult, it tells the story the story of someone growing up and being introduced to food.Given the chance, this is just the kind of book I would write. A story full of culinary heritage coming deep from family roots.As an estrangeiro living in Portugal with roots elsewhere, it is books like this that help me to discover and unearth a wealth of Portuguese heritage and introduce it through my blog to a whole new audience,often like Mendes, putting my own twist on things but possibly not often enough.Hopefully being inspired by this offering, it will help me up my game.New year, new you, new recipes they say.I see Portuguese women of a certain age in the butchers buying pigs ears and always wondered how they cook them.In this book I found that at Aldeia they serve crispy pigs ears with ramps and cumin yoghurt.Having just re-discovered offal I cant wait to try this. Pork scratchings and toresmos come to mind.I predict crispy fried pigs years could become the new chips.after the bitter disappointment of the sprouts I served on Christmas day,I wish I´d had this book earlier and I would have tried his brussels sprouts with quince and bacon instead.
I suppose why I have such an affiliation with Mendes cooking is his attention to sourcing and simplicity,something that comes across clearly in this book.He looks at where Portuguese cuisine has come from and how it has moved away from Portugal too.A cuisine that has crossed boundaries.He includes recipes from the former colonies, for example "Shrimp Mozambique style" in which he uses ingredients such as okra and things not so familiar in Portuguese cuisine.It is in dishes like this that he so cleverly brings memories of Portugal´s seafaring past to the tables of today´s Manhattan diners.
Then there’s a Goan cuttlefish recipe too, and his love of Japanese food and sushi also comes across.There is hardly a single recipe here that I dont want to try.

The design of the pages is clean and simple with beautifully styled photography and laid out in a way that makes each recipe accesiible to a domestic cook.

I know running a restaurant isn't easy, especially in the uber-competitive New York environment,but Mendes must being doing something right. After opening Aldea in 2009,  it’s long been anticipated that Mendes would expand into a more casual style.
His long awaited new restaurant, opening on 29th Street and 6th Avenue this winter, promises to be in the style of a “rustic Portuguese café” with a menu inspired by the chefs roots and will be equipped with a large wood-burning oven, which Mendes hints will be a primary focus. He'll be cooking, among other things. butterflied flattened chicken with  piri piri, and you can´t get more traditional than  that, but I am sure there will be a little twist or tweak in there.The concept will be beer-driven and modeled on the cervejarias of Lisbon, with very simple cooking and a raw bar. An affordable place you can eat at every day. 
Cinnamon sugar "doughnuts" with salt caramel sauce is one of my many bookmarks already in the book so watch this space, I think there will be some treats in store for the New year.By George he´s got it.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Votos a todos

Votos a todos

Feliz Natal
Feliz Navidad
Glædelig Jul
Vrolijk Kerstfeest en een Gelukkig Nieuwjaar!
  Fröhliche Weihnachten
Joyeux Noel  
Gajan Kristnaskon
Pozdrevlyayu s prazdnikom Rozhdestva is Novim Godom
Nollaig chridheil agus Bliadhna mhath ùr! Buon Natale

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Cupboard love, a crafty christmas challenge

Oh how I love my store cupboard. It is Christmas Eve and I still need some simple, effortless, no buy, no bother treats. Bearing in mind the imminence of the annual ritual of pantrification, I turn to the larder to come up trumps with some simple ingredients.Some forgotten standby´s coming close to their sell by date will clear some valuable future  shelf space and give me what I need for my challenge of the moment.
 My five minute pantry probe saw me flouncing back into the kitchen rewarded with a bounty of choice ingredients,including.......
Mini vol au vent cases
Chocolate cups
jar of home made lemon curd
a packet of 16 mini tarlet cases
icing sugar
Jar of classic mincemeat
Dried apricots 
Sugar, honey, flour
Mixed dried fruit (raisins sultanas,candied peel)
glaçe cherries
Blanched and flaked almonds
bar of cooking chocolate

and with the help of some friends from the fridge
1 apple
Half a quince
I set to work and before long had come up with some tasty sweet canapés.First off, using the tartlet cases,some mini open mince pies. No time to make pastry so just fill the cases with some mincemeat, pop em in the until heated through.Remove and Hey ho Santa, I had my first Christmas treat.

Second up,I filled the chocolate cups with some home made lemon curd.You could substitute almost any filling here,perhaps a chilled eggnog sprinkled with grated nutmeg
for a festive touch.

Next up something slightly more elaborate,inspired by one of my mothers old Christmas offerings, an apple, mincemeat, quince and apricot jalousie.I chopped one of the apples, the quince half and some dried apricots into very small pieces.I sautéed the fruits in some butter and a small spoonful of Maciera (a Portuguese brandy similar to calvados)and  some sugar for a couple of minutes but still letting them retain some crunch.I stirred through some mincemeat and when cool I spooned them into the vol au vent cases. I know a jalousie should have a lattice topping,but the filling was so pretty I decided these should be left open too.While still warm I dusted them with icing sugar and yo ho ho another fruity feast.

Last up - Florentines. Click here for my recipe ( makes 18 medium sized Florentines) These are always a favourite at this time of year, a little bit more of a faff to make than the previous two but well worth the effort.As you can see from the picture I cut them into fan shaped bite sized pieces.

 Who wouldn´t rather spend Christmas eve afternoon in the kitchen than fighting with those who´ve left it till the last minute to fight the crowds, food shopping.Oh how smug I felt that I could now put my feet up and tuck in to some sweet things.Not only that but I had used up all those half packets of dried fruits, nuts and whatever else making room for new year new stocktaking.

Total prep and cooking time 30 minutes

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

A filosofia do nariz a rabo (A nose to tail Philosophy)

If one is a carnivore I think one should adopt (especially in these days of austerity) a nose to tail philosophy.If an animal gives up its life in order to feed us I feel the least we can do is honour that, and do our darn best to be creative and consume as much from it as we possibly can.My ever resourceful mother, who had been brought up on war-time rationing, made meals from most of the frowned upon and less accessible cuts.I watched her delight in marinating an ox tongue and then pressing it.As you are aware I recently cured and pressed an ox tongue.After that I have been on a bit of an oxtail roll.I cooked braised oxtail for a sunday lunch for friends and found myself with ample leftovers.Having saved the broth ( not the brine) that I had cooked the ox tongue in, I brought together some of the pieces of oxtail and boiled them down in the tongue stock (onion celery and carrot).The remaining meat was already falling off the bones and after boiling for an hour I then discarded the bones,added some of the left over gravy and ox meat and blitzed it all in the processor to produce a hearty warming winter soup.Served up with a glug of sherry( as mother always thought appropriate) one has a hearty and robust winter soup.
Apply the same principal to your christmas left overs and you can´t go wrong.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Jamon -an Iberican communion,for life not just for christmas

HELLO,is it meat you´re looking for? well you´ve clicked on the right page.So vegetarians click away now, because I am going to wax lyrical about cured meat.Yes and for those of you have got this far there are two Christmas recipes at the end.
My favourite ham, with apologies to my Portuguese brethrens, is not from Portugal but from our neighbour Spain,where Belotta and Pata Negra come from the Iberian black pigs.The free range, pure bred black pigs roam the ground looking for the  acorns,beans herbs and wild flowers that give them their distinctive flavour.
Jamón Serrano is Spain´s very special ham. It means ´mountain ham`because more often than not it is made in the mountain regions, where cold winters and hot summers are perfect for the curing process
These hams are not smoked, but cured,and served raw.
Who,when innocently first rubbing salt into the leg of a pig, could have imagined they would end up four years later with such a delicacy?
The hind leg of the pig receives a daily massage of salt for a month before being hung in airy curing rooms at high altitude for more than a year.This is surely an acclaimed miracle cure.Of all the foods that have been preserved out of necessity,surely ham is the most satisfactory. Many consider it a bit of a luxury and indeed it can be, (pata negra ´black hoof´ for example is very expensive ) but this is only because of a shopping habit of buying expensive miniscule packets in the supermarket rather than going to a proper( may I call it "Emporio Salami") delicatessen who will carve it for you off the bone.For me this meat is sacred and deserves a certain reverence.When you pass through the doors of these pig emporiums you are hit by a tantalizing aroma (indeed on one such pilgrimage my friend was overcome and had to leave the shop).The nearest I can come to describing this experience is having been in church as a child when I was often prone to fainting on my knees when the fragrance of burning incense was released from a thurible. Your impulse is to genuflect in respect as you watch the the wafer thin slices fall onto the white waxy paper as they are carved with artesan detail.You leave the inner sanctum feeling you have received not only a benediction but have acquired a capricious bulging package of wafer thin pig.My fridge is rarely without one of these, not only for Christmas but throughout the year. No hermetically sealed packets here, mother. 
You return home and as you unpack your shopping basket a second wave of that pervasive bouquet returns.You lay the thin slices out on a white plate with a basket of bread and the ritual continues.In my mind what is on that plate is something heavenly
The fat is as important and as much of a treat as the meat.It not only edges the the flesh,but weaves its way through the meat,lending tenderness,moisture and flavour.Few things are as subtly aromatic and ravishing as the silky fat from a slice of Jamon.Oh how it breaks my heart  when I see it cast aside on someone elses plate.Sacrilege.

Its like receiving holy Communion.The ham just melts in your mouth as the consecrated host would when receiving the holy sacrament.  
The flavour of jamon is less salty and overwhelming than bacon so it can be used in place of bacon in cooking.It works very successfully when wrapped around fish. I created two festive canapés using jamon.As a subtle foil to some monkfish tails I wrapped them in a slither of ham and charred them on the grill. My second trick was using jamon to elevate simple cheese straws.Woops,sorry, did I forget to mention that I always keep a pack of puff pastry in my freezer for occasions like this?

Ham and cheese straws
Makes 24
These tangy ham and cheese straws only take 20mins to rustle up and you make can  make 24 in a batch or 48 if you make them half the length which is great if you’re feeding plenty of people. A strong cheese like parmesan or if you want to be pure Iberican, a manchego, and cured Jamon  work well together. A sharp kick of Dijon mustard rounds off the flavour. Use ready-rolled puff pastry for extra speed and efficiency. Ideal for buffets or as party food, cook these twisty straws until they are golden and crisp.They can be made in advance,stored in an airtight tupperware and warmed through when you want them. 
320g sheet ready-rolled puff pastry
2tbsp Dijon mustard
4 slices jamon serrano
60g Parmesan cheese, grated
1 egg, beaten

Cayenne pepper for dusting  

Set the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6.
Roll out the puff pastry to a large rectangle about 40 x 30cm. Spread over the Dijon mustard. With a short edge closest to you, cover the half nearest to you with the jamon, laid with the short edges facing you. Sprinkle with half the Parmesan cheese, then fold the other half of the pastry down over the ham. Run a rolling pin over to help them stick and to flatten. Trim edges to neaten. Brush with beaten egg.
Cut into strips, towards you, about 1cm thick and about 20cm long.(10cm if you want to make double the quantity.

 Twist each strip a few times before laying them on 2 baking sheets lined with non-stick baking parchment. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and dust with cayenne pepper.
Bake for 12-15 mins until crisp and golden, swapping the trays in the oven halfway through. Cool on a wire rack. Serve warm.
Monkfish tail wrapped in Jamon Iberico
1 monkfish tail cut into bite size pieces
(if you have more than you need from one tail freeze the remainder)
Thin slices of Presunto serrano
Salt and pepper to taste
Cut your monkfish tail into the number of bite size pieces you need.
Season well with salt and pepper
Cut thin slices of ham to the width of your pieces and carefully wrap them around the chunks.The thinner the ham the easier it will be for you to secure them.
(You can prepare up to this stage and then store them in the refrigerator until you are ready to cook them).
Heat a grill pan( not ridged) to a medium to high heat.Place the wrapped pieces of monkfish join size down onto the grill and depending on the size of your pieces cook for 5-7 minutes until the ham is crispy and then turn them over and cook the other side for another 5-7 minutes.Remove from the grill and poke a cocktail stick into each piece.Serve immediately on their own or with a dipping sauce of your choice woiuld be a home made alioli.

Jamon a quick guide to buying
There are many grades of jamón ibérico, categorised primarily by the diet of the pigs. The curing process remains the same, but the length for which they are aged will differ, with the lower grade hams receiving little more than a year of hanging and the very best up to four years.
The age difference can be seen in the finished result, with the flesh of the younger hams having a lighter pink colour and those of older hams being a deep, ruby red. The taste too is very different, with the acorn richness of the jamón ibérico de bellota lingering on the palate like a fine wine.

Jamón ibérico de bellota
From pure Iberico pigs fed on a diet of acorns and granted DO status. These hams are aged for at least three years before being released, and often labelled 'reserva' and 'gran reserva' to denote their age.

Jamón ibérico de recebo
Fed on a diet of cereals and acorns and aged for at least three years.

Jamón ibérico cebo de campo
Free range, but fed only on a diet of cereals.

Jamón ibérico de cebo
Commercially reared pigs fed on a diet of cereals.
It is also worth sampling these excellent Serrano hams.

Jamón de Trévelez
Produced from white pigs which have been fed on commercial cereals, this is still a very fine ham, which fans say has a sweetness that comes from the climate in which the pigs are reared.

Jamón de Teruel
The first jamon in Spain to receive DO status, these mountain hams must be aged for at least 12 months after curing before being sold.