Monday, 22 January 2018

Scottish oatcakes,and sae the Lord be thankit

 “Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit.”
Robert Burns
It is so rewarding when you find out that an item you might regularly buy, or can not source, is so easy to make. And of course you know exactly what is in it. I am not sure I would commit to never buying oatcakes again, but it is good to know I can easily knock up my own home made version, and after all it is quicker than going to the shops. In my particular case it is impossible to source traditional Scottish oatcakes here in the Algarve. I have been to every supermarket, every health food shop known to man, and can I find a real authentic oatcake like the ones we were brought up on as wee bairns back in the Scottish day? Yes there are packets of biscuits marketed as oatcakes but they all carry strange flavours.If God had meant oatcakes to be flavoured with Goji berries he would have said so.Linseed is not something to put through ones digestive system or subject the towns drainage system to either.Any way, what better time to bake a batch of oatcakes( January 25th in Scotland is the night to celebrate their most famous poet, Robert Burns) I stumbled upon a true oatcake recipe on the internet which matches the authenticity of Elizabeth Craig´s recipe in her Scottish Cookery book.
Savoury oatcakes (bannocks) are to Scotland what a baguette is to the French. The flat cakes made mainly from oats have for centuries been considered the Scottish national bread.Lots of Scottish cooking involves oats, not only because they’re delicious but also because the oat plant is one of the hardiest grain crops, and can withstand the cold weather of Scotland brilliantly – for this reason it was Scotland’s main crop, and therefore very affordable.
I discover that I prefer my oatcakes, like my porridge, to have a bite to them in the way of texture. A mixture of medium oatmeal to act as a binder and pinhead oatmeal to make them pleasingly chewy, with just a handful of porridge oats for interest, will do nicely. An oatcake shouldn't melt in the mouth, but neither should it require a chaser of dental floss.
Traditionally oatcakes seem to have been formed into large circles and cut into triangular farls, but what I have always been used to, and are less fragile, are the smaller modern rounds. The dough rolled thinly; about 5mm, provides the right level of crispness.The oatcake would originally have been cooked on a cast iron girdle, or griddle, over the fire, but nowadays a stove-top equivalent would be finished in a low oven. To be honest, they taste about the same, but such fragile biscuits are tricky to handle, especially when part-cooked; far easier for us amateurs to stick with the oven.  Make sure they've dried out completely before taking them out of the oven.Delicious, yes, but crispness should be your watchword with these particular oatcakes – they may be crumblier and more fragile than the bought sort, but what they lack in durability they more than make up for in flavour.

Makes 16
1 cup traditional oats
1/2 cup coarsely ground toasted mixed cereals (granola) (Oats, wheat, rice, rye)*
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup golden sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda (bicarb not baking powder)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chilled solid vegetable shortening, cut into pieces
1/4 cup buttermilk (see note below)*
10ml molasses dissolved in soup spoon boiling water optional

The perfect oatcake cutter

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 2 heavy large baking sheets. Place oats in large bowl. Sift flour, sugar, baking soda and salt into same bowl. Using fingertips, rub in shortening until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add buttermilk,if using; stir until dough forms. Transfer dough to floured surface. Roll out dough to 1/4-inch thickness.Use a cookie cutter to cut out rounds (the final number of oatcakes depends - of course - on the size of cutter you use. In a wonderfully Scottish twist/coincidence I found that using an upturned whisky glass makes the perfect size :-). Arrange on prepared sheets, spacing apart. Gather scraps, reroll and cut out additional rounds. Bake oatcakes until edges are pale golden, about 12 minutes. Transfer baking sheets to racks and cool 5 minutes. Transfer cakes to racks; cool completely.They Can be prepared 3 days ahead and stored in an airtight container.
*If butter milk is not available use a 50/50 blend of plain yogurt and water *This gives the oatcakes a nutty crunch and a slight sweetness

Monday, 15 January 2018

A chilli occasion

When its cold outside and the thermometer says its 4ºC,you need cosy comfort food and a heart-warming supper.Its January and you can´t face one more slice of turkey, so you will love this meatloaf (below) and even more so the rich tomato and red wine gravy (above). The star of the show here however is the red wine, tomato and chilli  gravy, which as a side dish elevates the meatloaf to star turn culinary status.Dont stint on the wine.A cabernet sauvignon would be ideal but I used a hearty Portuguese red.The quantity of gravy will allow you plenty to bottle and keep in the fridge or freezer for the next time you want a stunning pasta sauce, or cook some calamari or octopus.

Red Wine Tomato and Chilli Gravy
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, chopped
Large Pinch red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
1 onion, diced
1 carrot, finely chopped
2 sticks of celery chopped
1/2 cup red wine
Two 28-ounce cans whole peeled plum tomatoes
Pinch sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over low heat. Saute the garlic, red pepper flakes, and herbs for 2 minutes until the herbs are fragrant and garlic is golden (but not overly brown.) Raise the heat to medium, add onion and carrot; cook for 5 minutes until they breakdown and are soft. Deglaze with red wine and reduce to evaporate the alcohol. Hand crush the canned tomatoes and add to the pot, along with its liquid. Add a pinch of sugar to cut down on the acidity from the tomatoes; season with salt and pepper. Let simmer for 30 minutes, uncovered.Blitz the gravy with a stick blender and serve hot in a gravy jug.
Minced Pork and Sage Meatloaf
If you have any left over, fry slices in a little butter till crispy on the outside.Slather some ketchup or relish on fresh white country bread and you have the makings of a sausage sandwich with a difference.Alternatively after frying it serve it with a poached egg on top

Prep Time: 15 mins
Cook Time: 45 mins

1 tbsp sunflower oil
1 large onion, finely diced
1 celery stalk
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tsp flaked sea salt
1 heaped tsp dried ground sage
sprig of thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes
500g/1lb 2oz pork mince
175g/6oz fresh white breadcrumbs
dash of Worcester sauce,soya sauce or molho piccante
1 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
2 medium eggs, beaten

Heat oven to 180°C and line a loaf pan with generously overlapping baking paper (using baking paper makes it easier to get the meatloaf out of the pan).Heat the oil in a small frying pan. Add onion, celery and garlic with chili flakes and a pinch of salt. Cook until translucent. Cool slightly.
Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl until well combined. Press mixture into prepared pan and fold over the baking paper on all sides to cover the top
Season with salt and pepper and bake for 45 minutes until cooked through. Remove from Slice generously and serve hot or cold.


Thursday, 11 January 2018

Waste not why not? food for thought

butternut squash peelings roasted and turned into root vegetable crisps
As the clocks struck midnight on New Year’s Eve, many of us will have made a resolution for 2018 which we will strive to keep, but many of us will fail at the first hurdle and many did not even think about it.In order to succeed we must choose an option that we are going to get some gratification from.Its no use struggling with something you dont enjoy or dont believe in.Its never too late if you haven´t already set yourself a challenge.
 This year I am not making any promise to myself that I can not keep.Instead of making a resolution I am setting myself a mission.A simple mission to change not only my habits but hopefully those of others.The goal is to turn "wasted" ingredients into simple, creative and nutritious meals.This one is do-able, achievable and wont cause any hardship.Why are dustbins and garbage cans brimming over with discarded nutritious ingredients while there are those without a home begging on the street in order to sustain their next meal The inspiration comes from my current food hero and one who I consider to be possibly the best chef in the world Massimo Bottura. He has published a book “Bread Is Gold: Extraordinary Meals With Ordinary Ingredients.”Massimo´s "NO WASTE" philosophy is summed up in his in his own words describing the book.
'These dishes could change the way we feed the world, because they can be cooked by anyone, anywhere, on any budget. To feed the planet, first you have to fight the waste'
On average European countries currently waste an average of 500 kilograms per person a year.Portugal alone wastes about a million tons of food a year.The plan against food wastage in Lisbon saved more than 2 million meals from going to waste last year, which were then distributed to the needy.
The United Kingdom throws away 7 million tonnes of food and drink  every year, the majority of which could have been eaten.The average family throws away 22% of their weekly shop, which is worth £700 per year. In the US, the per-family equivalent is worth a staggering $2,275 each year!
Of the food thrown away, 4.4million tonnes was deemed to be “avoidable” waste that was edible at some point before it was put in the bin or food waste caddy – such as stale bread,meat bones and fruit and vegetable peelings.The rest were scraps that could not be eaten such as eggshells, tea bags, coffee grounds, apple cores and packaging.
France was the first country to introduce specific food waste legislation and loses only 1.8 percent of its total food production each year. It plans to cut this in half by 2025.Surprise surprise, top of the league are the United States. Americans waste 760 kilograms per person per year.
More often than not, what we consider "waste" – be it a fish head or a broccoli core – has enormous culinary potential." —Dan Barber
The way I look at it Leftovers aren't a problem! They're a bounty.
Bottura´s book is something that enables all of us to evaluate what is in our larder, on our shelves, and to make us aware of what we are discarding, and then make better use of everything in simple intelligent ways.Take for instance a simple Parmesan rind, something most people would chuck in the bin, little knowing that if they had saved it, it gives intense flavour when boiled down in soups.The rind of real Parmesan cheese just so happens to be one of the culinary world's biggest kept secrets. Crumble up left over Christmas pudding or fruit cake and mix it into any flavoured ice cream.Any type of curry lends itself to using up what might otherwise end up as waste.

Most people throw away their vegetable peelings.Please don´t.The skins of root vegetables like the potato and butternut squash provide an abundance of vitamins and nutrients known for preventing a wide variety of diseases.The squash´s deep golden colour gives us an indication that it is packed with beta carotenes, an important antioxidant that can help reduce the risk of a number of life-threatening conditions.
Here is how its done: 
Peel the butternut squash and reserve the long strips of skin.Heat the oven to 150C/280F/gas mark 1.Place the reserved butternut peelings on a roasting tray and top with a drizzle of olive oil, a few drops of sherry vinegar and sprinkle over 2 tablespoons of chopped rosemary.Put in the oven and cook for 20 minutes on a low heat to crisp up.Remove the crisps from the oven and place them on kitchen paper to absorb any excess oil.At this point if you feel inclined you can also sprinkle them with some parmesan and Flor de Sal.I then put them back in the oven with the oven switched off to further crispen up for about an hour.
and look what a chic and impressive Hors d'oeuvre you can end up with- butternut squash soup with crispy roasted butternut skins

Recently while watching a UK TV series "Save Money: Good Food" the "food police" presenters go through the waste bin in each family´s kitchen as a way of finding out what food had been abandoned.They find edible items of food,which they retrieve.I was horrified to see bread that had been thrown out and then to learn that one family were then putting packet breadcrumbs on their shopping list.
                                  Home made breadcrumbs so easy to make
No bread is ever thrown out in our house,the bread we dont use is put through the food processor and the dried out in the oven to make bread crumbs,dust souffle dishes,top bakes,make migas,bread crumb batters, croutons.They can, thicken sauces, bind together meatballs, serve as a coating for fish and chicken or even as a crunchy topping. They make a wonderful filler for quiches and frittatas. Bread crumbs can also help you lighten a heavy dish like a meatloaf because they give lots of structure but aren’t too heavy.

Since our Christmas shop, no food has been left unused,discarded or without being re-cycled into further meals....
watercress and spinach soup, curried parsnip soup using left over dauphinoise potatoes and cider, ham cheese and bread sauce soufflés ,belly pork and cabbage stir fry,, a pork cassoulet, crackling, toasted breadcrumbs, melba toast,prawn and octopus risotto with the stock the New year octopus was cooked in, Bubble and squeak migas and when all is said and done with the home cured ham,I will boil down the bones to make the base for split pea and ham soup.
Bubble and squeak Migas, Alentejo style 
Bubble and squeak should be on everyone's radar come Christmas time - This simple dish is perfect for using up leftover mashed potatoes, brussels sprouts,turnip tops, cabbage,even parsnip, stale bread and white beans. Top with poached eggs for a scrumptious lunch.My version is a fusion of very traditional British with very traditional Portuguese.

1 tablespoon duck fat, goose fat or butter
4 rashers of streaky bacon chopped
left over chouriço chopped
1 onion finely sliced
6 cooked Brussel sprouts or left over boiled cabbage, shredded
6 Raw Brussel sprouts with all the leaves separated and shredded coarsely
Handful of raw chinese leaves
400g left over mashed potatoes
Left over cooked parsnip mashed
Melt the fat in a non-stick pan, allow it to get nice and hot, then add the bacon. As it begins to brown, add the onion and garlic. Next, add the sliced sprouts or cabbage and let it colour slightly. All this will take 5-6 mins.Add the Chouriço and finally the potato. Work everything together in the pan and push it down so that the migas covers the base of the pan - mould the migas into a tortilla like shape. Allow the mixture to catch slightly on the base of the pan before turning it over by inverting it on a plate slightly smaller than the pan than then and doing the same again. It's the bits of potato that catch in the pan that define the term 'bubble and squeak', so be brave and let the mixture colour. Cut into wedges and serve.

Being aware of waste is no new thing and has a centuries old history.In medieval times the British often used bread as a thickening agent for sauces.There was stale bread lying around and thrifty cooks quite rightly didn't want to waste it.My thoughts entirely.
Many of Britain´s greatest puddings were magicked out of old bread: apple charlotte, queen of puddings (that airy layering of bready custard, jam and egg white), summer pudding. poor knights of Windsor (a kind of sweet eggy bread flavoured with sherry), not to mention, of course, the twin glories of bread pudding and bread-and-butter pudding, the one stolid and the other light – both splendid.
Please please make it your New year mission to adopt the "NO WASTE" philosophy."There's a world outside your window, and it's a world of dread and fear". I would love to hear from you and your views and experiences on the subject.Food for thought,eh?

Monday, 8 January 2018

Arroz de Polvo Malandrinho

If you’ve never eaten octopus I think octopus rice is the best way to try it for the first time.There are many recipes in Portugal which are devoted to the octopus. Arroz de Polvo is one of the most popular and can be found on most menus across Portugal.
The actual recipe varies from restaurant to restaurant, but the recipe below is my own take, based on a traditional recipe using malandrinho rice, spiced and aromatized to enhance the taste of the octopus and the flavour of the sea.The flavour of the rice comes from the water the octopus was cooked in  and the water it releases during cooking, giving the rice a very meaty flavour and a lovely hue of pink.
The secret:
Even after you have rinsed and washed the octopus it can still secrete grit in its tentacles which will be released in the cooking so be sure to strain the stock before using it. Go easy on the chilli flakes.Serve small portions it is very filling.

Arroz de Polvo Malandrinho
This particular style of octopus rice is called malandrinho which means the rice is supposed to be solto (loose), so at the end of the finished dish you don’t want all of the liquid to be absorbed by the rice but neither do you want to be eating soup with bits of rice.
Serves 3
1 raw octopus,around 900g /2lb
I bottle white wine
1/2 cup /50g black peppercorns
1 tablespoon tomato puree

zest of 1 orange
Heat a large pan with a little oil.Bring it to smoking point,then sear the octopus on both sides until it turns a rich red color.Once red on both sides,add the wine,peppercorns,tomato paste and orange zest.Braise until tender,about one hour. Allow the octopus to cool fully.Slice into pieces.

Reserved stock from cooking octopus
1 tbsp of olive oil 

1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 medium size onion chopped
4 cloves garlic finely chopped
large handful of coriander stalks chopped finely
1 fat garlic clove, chopped finely
1 heaped cup  of white malandrinho rice
3 – 3 1/2 cups of the reserved octopus stock
1/2 – 1 tsp of Flor de sal, check if the stock water is salty (start with half teaspoon, after first few minutes you can taste it and be able to tell if it needs a touch more)
pinch of  chili flakes

300g of cooked prawns(optional)
Add the butter and oil to the pan along with the onion and coriander and let the onions cook on a low to medium heat for 5-10 minutes until they soften, appear translucent and not burnt.

Add the garlic and chilli flakes and cook for a few more minutes.

Add the rice,stir well to mix and cook until the rice is well coated and glistening.

re-heat the octopus stock in a milk pan and keep on a low heat. 
Proceed as if you were cooking a risotto, adding ladlefuls of the stock at a time and constantly stir the rice,for about 20-25 minutes
When the rice is a few minutes away from being ready add the sliced octopus and prawns if using, stir it in and cook until the rice is on the verge of being done. Serve in soup plates and garnish with parsley or coriander.

Friday, 5 January 2018

Bread sauce foreplay anyone?

ham cheese and bread sauce souffle ( recipe below)
The turkey sits  on the carving board  in golden resplendence,it´s bulging buttocks satiated by a desire to be praised for being well dressed.All around it, insatiable appetites whose physical hunger could be assuaged by "Bruising 'im on the butt, Making a little slash, Making a wider gash as soon as the bird was undressed.The red neon glow of the cranberry sauce beckons expectantly from  its cut glass vessel.There's a large dish of voluptuous Brussels sprouts, lubricated with a shiny glaze of butter; stuffing flecked with sage; and heaps of incumbent crispy roast potatoes.But something is missing, bread sauce......
As the silver Rolls Royce of comedy, Victoria Wood once said "foreplay is like beefburgers- three minutes each side".Food is the new sex and bread is its lingerie.Its the foreplay of the whole meal. The lingerie has to be removed during foreplay.So how is it that the sauciest of sauces, "bread sauce" ,only graces our tables at the one sexiest meal of the year? 
Bread sauce is one of the last remnants of a whole class of bread-based dishes that have largely vanished from British cooking. As it turns out  the sauce has been passed down through the generations for a good 500 years. It's actually a culinary relic of the Middle Ages, one of the few remaining examples of the bread-thickened sauces, stews and soups that were once served at Christmas feasts, and other celebration dinners, across medieval Europe.Where today we would reach for a bag of flour to thicken a stew or make a sauce, a medieval cook would throw in yesterday's loaf instead.
The Italians have ribollita— made with stale bread, beans and kale.
                                   A hearty bowl of french onion soup
The French have soupe à l'oignon and the Portuguese have açorda. All are bread-based soups, and all can be fine things for those of us who happen to enjoy eating soggy bread.Getting closer, the Turks have tarator and the Spaniards have Romesco — made with tomatoes, bread and ground almonds or hazelnuts. But for sheer soulful comfort, none can match the starchy wonder of our own bread sauce.  Outside of Christmas, and certainly outside of the U.K., bread sauce is largely unknown. 
"The idea of bread sauce remains intensely baffling, possibly even disgusting, to any person who hasn't been brought up with British traditions," writes British cookery writer Nigella Lawson, who includes it in her collection of Christmas recipes. She, too, feels that it should be an indispensable part of Christmas. "I regard bread sauce as not only my legacy from my mother," she writes, "but as every Briton's sacred and stodgy inheritance."
To me, like the domestic deity she is, just the smell of the milk infusing on the stove, giving off that familiar scent of onion, mace, bay and clove, tells me it is Christmas.I learned my version of bread sauce from my mother.It's the one Christmas dish I still can't live without. Not only does it transport me straight back to the Christmases of my childhood, its strange, sloppy texture and comforting spices have the magical ability to make everything on the Christmas dinner plate taste better. It bumps up the Brussels sprouts,tempers the acidity of the cranberries and transforms every slice of turkey, however overcooked and dry, into a succulent, flavoursome mouthful.

Unlike cranberry sauce, which is fine with turkey but rather strident if you accidentally get some on a Brussels sprout, bread sauce goes with everything. Sausage, Stuffing, Parsnips. Sometimes I think I could dispense with the rest of the meal and just eat a big bowl of bread sauce, roast potatoes and gravy.funny i should say that because Nigel Slater did just that.He dispensed with the turkey and turned left over chipolatas and bread sauce into a hearty midweek post Christmas supper.My left over bread sauce supper was
Ham, cheese and bread sauce soufflé
adapted from a delicious magazine recipe

makes 4 250ml ramekins or 1 litre souffle dish

50g unsalted butter, plus extra melted butter for greasing
Handful fine white breadcrumbs
60g leftover ham, finely shredded

40g plain flour
300ml whole milk
Good pinch cayenne pepper
Grated fresh nutmeg
4 large free-range eggs, separated
150g leftover bread sauce
100g parmesan or cheddar, grated

You will also need
Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan180°C/gas 6 with a baking sheet inside. Brush 4 x 250ml ramekins with melted butter, sprinkle with breadcrumbs, then divide the ham and chestnuts among them.Melt the 50g butter in a pan over a low-medium heat, add the flour and cook for 2 minutes. Gradually add the milk, stirring, then bring to the boil. Boil, whisking all the time, for 2 minutes or until very thick.
Off the heat, stir in the spices and egg yolks. Season and stir in the bread sauce and cheese.
In a bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff. Mix a little into the sauce, then gently fold in the rest. Fill the ramekins almost to the top, then run a finger around the rims to help them rise.
Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden and well risen, then serve straightaway with a salad.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Snap crackling and pop

 An appreciation of a very misunderstood ingredient
For Christmas dinner this year we abandoned the bird and took up the cudgels for the pig.We love our belly pork and it can be difficult to get right. If you google "perfect crackling" you will find no end of advice,but whose advice do you take? One thing that everybody seems to be consistently in agreement with is scoring the skin with deep,closely spaced cuts of the knife.A criss-cross diamond cut will give an even better result than straight slashes through the skin. Synominously, most agree to start the next stage the day before you intend to roast the pork.As with crispy duck skin, place the meat on a rack above a tray or bowl  and pour a full kettle of boiling water slowly over the skin.Pour away the collected water,pat the pork dry and then let it dry completely for an hour or so.Sprinkle the skin with a tablespoon of Flor de sal and rub it in all over the belly.Cover with a tea towel and leave it in the fridge overnight.This will make it dry further.Dryness is essential for good crackling.
The crackling experience makes you enjoy it in two stages: first, when the crackling breaks in your mouth with a crunch, like flaky pastry; second, when the perfectly crispy morsels melt on your tongue, imparting flavour.Enjoy crunchy, dry, savoury mouthfuls of pork scratchings (Chicharrones as our Spanish neighbours over the river call them)served up a la Nigel Slater  in a bowl of popcorn with a bottle of fizz thats just been popped.
The words “guilty pleasure”  come to mind,yum yum pigs bum ( no, belly actually).
            A criss-cross diamond cut will give an even better result than straight slashes through the skin

Monday, 1 January 2018

Bullshot:a timely cocktail with a beefy splash

"The best cure for what ails you is to have some more of it".I´m all for that, especially when it comes to a Bloody Mary."Bloody Mary is the girl I love"perhaps a little too much.Well, how about an old-fashioned riff on the Bloody Mary? New year is perhaps the best time of year to enjoy a timely cocktail with a beefy splash- The Bullshot.It's the kind of off-menu drink that ad men ("Mad Men," ) would order in the '60s to boost their street cred.
The story of the Bull Shot began around 1952 at Detroit's Caucus Club. It wasn't long before the Hollywood set, in particular Rock Hudson, caught wind of this odd drink and by 1957 it exploded on the scene.
In any sense, the Bull Shot was not a normal drink, a drink for acquired tastes, one that you will either love or hate.Though it was a big hit in the 60s and 70s,for some reason it remained popular through the 1980s. This was the era of three-martini lunches and classy drinks that have since been revived by the TV show "Mad Men," So how did a drink with beef broth (of all things) come to be such a hit? The Bull Shot is making a surprising comeback as it appeals to drinkers looking for that now fashionable retro vibe.Could this be a hit in Southern Europe like the gin craze was? Come on Portugal and Spain, lets see some mixologist initiative.Get  it on those menus.
What is the Bull Shot? Well, if you take the tomato juice out of the ​Bloody Mary equation and replace it with beef broth or consommé, you have a Bull Shot. Just like my favourite brunch drink, it can be spiced and flavoured to your taste.I decided to get the best of both worlds and served my Bullshot with Bloody Mary ice cubes
You may even want to join Bull Shot fans who enjoy it warm in the winter. In that aspect, it's a lot like drinking spiked soup,and there´s nothing wrong with that- SAUDE !!!
An authentic bullshot
90ml chilled beef consomme
45ml vodka
A dash or two of Worcestershire sauce
A squeeze of lemon
A dash or two of Tabasco
juice 1/2 lemon
Mix Worcestershire and salt in glass. Add ice cubes. Pour over vodka, then broth. 
Garnish with celery stick and/or lime wedge

 the "cute mary" cocktail as served at Guarita terrace
Happy New Year Everyone!!!!!

Friday, 29 December 2017

Medronho not just a drink

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

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

All the K´s Kefir Kraut Kale Kombucha and Kimchi

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

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

Boxing day egg and bacon pie

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

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

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

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