Monthly Archives: August 2014

Sea Bass

I’m having a penchant for fish at the moment! Maybe it’s the warm weather (the winds have abaited a little), but I am being drawn to fish counters when out shopping and there is rather a splendid array of specimens from which to choose. Being in close proximity to the southern coast of Portugal, what else would one expect! Fish are easy and relatively quick to prepare for the oven, so on a balmy summer evening, what better meal to feast on.

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Here are my stars of the show – two plump sea bass stuffed with lemon, garlic and dill

Having taken a rest from my restaurant kitchen, I am eating rather more and inevitably the kilos are increasing! It’s enormously tedious, this debt to pleasure! When I was cooking commercially, I didn’t have time to sit down and eat a full meal and I must admit that by the end of service, I didn’t feel like food. My ‘carrot’, at the end of the day, was a glass of chilled wine. I mostly survived on nibbling and tasting the dishes in preparation during the day. Alas, that has all changed for the moment – to the detriment of my hips, ‘tum’ and bum. I am enjoying experimenting with recipes and cooking at home and, inescapably, eating the results – in fact, clearing the plate and often replenishing it. Quel horreur!  Therefore, my intentions are good in selecting fish for dinner, which eaten with a crisp green salad, would be extremely healthy and probably hold the kilos at bay! But, I am weak (I’ve mentioned before that I suffer from a disease called ‘will power deficiency’) and I can’t pass on the potatoes. My particular partiality to potatoes must have its roots somewhere in my Irish ancestry. Locally grown potatoes, which I buy at our village market, are simply irresistible. They ‘taste’ how I want a potato to taste – often creamy with a slight sweetness, not watery and bland like so many of the supermarket offerings.  The potatoes in moderation (like everything in life – huh!) would probably be fine; but I like mine with lashings of good quality butter and a generous sprinkling of sea salt. Those people interested in cautious eating, should not follow my blog!

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Just about cooked!

After 25 minutes in the oven at 180 degrees centigrade sealed in foil, plus 5 minutes with the foil unwrapped at 200 degrees centigrade, we had two beautifully baked bass. These fish weighed about one kilo each – the meat just fell off the bone. It served three of us very generously with oodles over for lunch the next day.

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Just look at this succulent meat!

As there are three of us and I had two fish, I served it off the bone with a lemon butter, garlic and dill sauce – new potatoes and carrots. Salad next time …. maybe! Or, perhaps, I’ll start running to the market!!

Portuguese Fig Jam/Chutney

Figilicious!!

IMG_1552Figs, gloriously scrumptious figs – they are everywhere at the moment. Here in Portugal it is the season for figs and they are ripe and ready to be picked and eaten straight from the tree, cooked up in sauces, dried for future use or preserved in the form of chutneys and jams. I have just made my first batch of jam – would have had more to preserve if one hungry teenager hadn’t munched his way through a load!

Scrumptiously figilicious!!

IMG_1568My recipe is based on a kilo of figs but if you have access to more, it’s worth making a batch, as it’s a gooey job – worth it though!! Try with cheese or as an accompaniment to pork!

Let the fruit and juices reduce and thicken …….. and hey presto!

Portuguese Fig Jam

Prep Time: 15 Mins Cooking Time: 1 Hour Total Time: 1 Hour 20 Mins

Ingredients:

    Per 1 kilo of fresh green or black figs

    • 1 1/2 cups of light brown or granulated white sugar
    • 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
    • 2 sprigs of rosemary
    • 1/2 cup of Moscatel wine (white Port or white Vermouth) or water (or half & half)

    Directions:

    1. Remove the hard stem and cut the figs into quarters
    2. In a large preserving pan (or other suitable vessel), place the figs and the sugar
    3. On a low to moderate heat, add the lemon juice, the rosemary and the Moscatel wine and/or water
    4. Simmer the figs until soft and the liquid thickens and sets
    5. Remove any stems from the rosemary
    6. Spoon into jars while hot and seal. Leave to cool.

    Pork Fillet, White Port, Figs, Honey and Goat’s Cheese

    This really was a blend of Portuguese flavours! And I enjoyed making it and by the clean plates at the end, the family enjoyed eating it too! Though I am not so sure that Peter enjoyed picking the figs – I should have armed him with a pair of gloves as they leave a sticky residue which is not easy to remove!! Anyway, the reward was in the result.

     

    Gathering wild figs close to home.

    Pork and Portugal are synonymous, as are figs and goat’s cheese. Port is probably Portugal’s best know export, so I decided to make a dish that combines all the best ingredients that the country has to offer. I also added a spoonful of locally produced honey with almonds, but not before devouring some myself. Ooooh, it was pure nectar!! I’ll try and remember that next time I complain about my increasing weight. Unfortunately, as far as food is concerned, I suffer acutely from a case of ‘willpower deficiency’!
     
    So, on with the recipe!

    This honey and almond mixture is made up in the hills of Monchique and, please believe me, it is heaven in a pot!

    The sauce:
    1 cup of White Port (and a little drop for chef!)
    2 cups of vegetable stock
    8 figs, quartered
    2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
    2 cinnamon sticks
    1 dessert spoon of honey
    2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
    Salt and pepper
    The Pork:
    1 pork fillet will generously feed 3 people
    Butter to grease the foil
    2 sprigs of rosemary                                
    To accompany: Soft Goat’s Cheese and 2 extra Figs
     

    A generous splash of White Port!

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    Add cinammon, rosemary, stock and honey and simmer!

    In a heavy medium size saucepan, add the figs, white Port, vegetable stock, honey, rosemary and cinnamon. Boil for about 30 minutes until the liquid is reduced by half. Strain the liquid to remove the fig skins, rosemary stalks and the the cinnamon sticks. With the liquids back in the pan, blend in the butter and season with salt and pepper. This can be put aside and gently reheated before serving.
     
    For this recipe, I like to bake the pork fillet with a couple of sprigs of rosemary, sealed in buttered foil, for 20 minutes in a pre-heated oven at 180 degrees.
     
    In the meantime, cook the rice. The black rice takes much longer than the white so I start that off first. When cooked, drain and mix the rices.
     
    Slice the pork into 1cm rounds. Dress with the sauce.
     
    Slice the figs thinly and the goat’s cheese. I use a kitchen ‘blow’ torch to lightly toast them both. Assemble and devour!!!! The flavours marry well together and are truly sensational.
     
     
     
     
     

     

    Salmon and Prawn Tagliatelli and Bad Hair Day!

     Following a bad, bad hair day – This was a pasta perfect remedy!!!
    I’ve had pasta on my mind more than usual following a post I read by Joy the Baker (joythebaker.com – French Onion Pasta – fab! I recommend it). Well, it must have come at a time when, subliminally, I was craving comfort food. You may have read my previous post (Exotic Salad), to know that I have been trying to make the most of our summer here in south west Portugal. Despite the high winds (not typical for this time of year), I have been intent on cooking and creating recipes suited to the season that we should be enjoying. However, that quickly changed, following a meeting with my accountant, who heralded some unfavourable financial news. At that point, the evening menu was decided! I would seek comfort in pasta …….. and wine!
     
    Salmon and Prawn Tagliatelle – deliciously simple!
    (4 people)
    500g salmon fillet (skin removed after baking)
    200g cooked Greenland prawns – defrosted
    2 leeks, chopped
    2 Spring onions, chopped
    2 cloves of garlic, chopped
    A ‘glug’ of Moscatel or sweet wine
    200ml cream
    Shavings of Parmesan cheese
    Salt and Pepper
    2 tbsp of olive oil
    Chopped basil to garnish and ground black pepper
    Fresh Tagliatelle 
     
    Wrap the salmon tightly in a lightly buttered piece of foil and bake in a pre-heated oven for 15 minutes. Remove, open the foil and set aside.
     
    Bring a pan of water with a few drops of olive oil in it to the boil and add the tagliatelle. Cook until the pasta is just soft. While this is happening …… in a heavy based pan – add the olive oil, then add the leeks, spring onions and garlic. Add salt and pepper. Pan fry for a couple of minutes. Add a ‘glug’ of the wine. Be careful not to make it too sweet! Let this simmer for 10 minutes and add the cream. Mix together well. Gently flake the salmon and mix softly into the sauce. Add the defrosted prawns. Cook gently for 2 minutes and remove from the heat.
     
    Drain the pasta and spoon over the salmon and prawn sauce. Garnish with flakes of Parmesan, ground black pepper and some fresh basil. Tuck in! As my son would say – LUSH!
     
    I don’t normally like to have my photo taken, but this likeness, in which I am sufficiently disguised, evidences the high winds that I have been bemoaning and find so irritatingly …. irksome (I could be more dscriptively precise!) There is also a relevance in posting it, because my hair looks like the tagliatelle that I cooked and frighteningly, it’s the same colour !!!! 
     

    As I step outside, I instantly resemble a bowl of tagliatelli!

    For the recipe that inspired my pasta passion have a look at joythebaker.com

     
     
     

    Exotic Summer Salad!

    Despite the strong and fresh winds that we are experiencing here in the Western Algarve, I am not yet going to give in to winter comfort food. One wouldn’t believe it is August – I feel so sorry for the sand blasted and wind burned tourists that visit Portugal in search of sun, sand and all the rest! The TV news has recently reported that we have David Cameron and family here on holiday – I hope they have the use of a good strong wind breaker and packed plenty of woollies!
    I will not be defeated by some rogue weather. We are British, so we will endure the cold, wrap up in blankets, sit on the terrace and eat salad! I may meet with some resistance from the family, but remind them that we paid a fortune for the terrace furniture, so we will use it!

    On with the purpose of this post – my Exotic Summer Salad. It’s really very, very easy to prepare, as you can see (photographed before it took flight!).

    On a bed of shredded ice berg lettuce, add cherry tomatoes (from our garden), chopped Spring onions, chopped celery, kiwi fruit, figs and raspberries. Then add some slices of Mozzarella cheese and coat with a good quality olive oil and drizzle with a ‘creme de vinaigre balsamic de Modena’. The addition of pine nuts or toasted almond flakes would give a little extra crunch.

    Pure bliss! I happened to have some Jamon de Extremadura in the fridge, bought on a previous trip to Spain. If I was about to be sent to the gallows, this would be my last supper choice, accompanied by copious amounts of Chablis to numb the noose!
     
    Thus, on an August summer evening, I summoned the troops and we sat down to supper on the terrace. Instantly, a violent gust of wind, claimed half the salad and propelled my recently recharged glass of wine (thankfully, not Chablis) into orbit. I know when I am defeated, so we retreated to the comfort of the kitchen with half a salad, the ham in tact but the wine and glass not!
    Tomorrow I’ll make a casserole with dumplings and order wood for the fire!
    Hope you’re in a less windy position David (geographically, I mean)!!
     

    Meatballs – Spice up your life!

    I’m always trying to think of something different to dish up for dinner. It requites my need for creativity and when I’ve got lots of things whizzing around in my head (which sometimes feels like Piccadilly Circus), menu planning and preparation is very therapeutic! I like to tuck myself away in the kitchen and if the sun is going down (well, it always is somewhere in the world!), I pour myself a glass of chilled white ‘nectar’ and set about my culinary preparations.

    On Saturday, I thought I’d spice things up a little and serve up one of my old restaurant specials.

    SPICY MEATBALLS in a tomato sauce, served with plain rice and sour cream.

    Ingredients and preparation:
    (serves 4)
    The meatballs:
    500g of pork mince and 500g beef mince
    (there is no reason why you should not just use one or the other – I mix it because, here in Portugal, I sometimes find that the beef mince does not have quite enough fat content)
    Van Geest’s Sambal Oelek* liquid chili – hot!
    (For a mild to medium result, I used 2 tablespoons to a kilo of meat – but add more if you wish to increase the ‘fire’!)
    Salt (again, the quantity is up to you – I tend to be over generous, so I am not going to give guidelines)

    In an appropriate sized mixing bowl, add the meat and salt and then the liquid chili. Now for the messy part – use your hands to mix everything together. On a baking tray lined with baking paper, roll the meat in the palms of your hands, into balls just a little smaller than those used to play golf! Bake in a preheated oven (180 degrees) for 20 minutes.

    Warning! Wash your hands well!
    Jolly painful if you inadvertently rub your eyes!!
     
    Whilst your little spicy chili balls are cooking away, prepare the sauce.
    The Sauce:
    2 tbsp olive oil
    2 leeks, chopped
    2 spring onions, chopped
    2 sticks of celery, chopped
    1 tin of chopped tomatoes (approx 500g)
    A good squeeze of tomato paste
    3 cloves of chopped garlic
    Salt (I recommend a good sprinkling)
    Freshly chopped coriander to garnish
     
    In a saucepan, add the olive oil, the leeks, spring onions, celery and garlic with the salt and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes and the tomato paste. Allow the vegetables to soften and cook down a little before serving on top of the meatballs.
     
    I like to serve this with plain rice and a good dollop of sour cream to balance the heat from the meatballs. My son invited a friend to join us for dinner, so I was a little more cautious than usual with the Sambal Oelek. You did well Alex, next time, I’ll challenge your taste buds a little more!
     
    * For my reader here in Portugal, I get Van Geest’s Oelek Sambal from Baptista’s Supermercado in Praia da Luz.

     

    Three Soles for Three Contented Souls!

    I look forward to my visits to the Municipal Fish Market in Lagos (Lagos, Portugal that is! Not Nigeria!) I like the hustle and bustle of the place, the calls of the vendors and the smell of the sea and ……. fish! It is high season and the market is very busy with restaurateurs, private shoppers like me and tourists eager to get a feel for the ‘real’ Portugal. The variety of fish on sale is awesome; some with monster-like faces, some like my sole with hardly a face at all, some pretty and others ………. plain scary! 

    Imagine meeting this ‘monster’ Monkfish while taking a dip in the sea!

    Okay, back to the thread of my post! I usually go with a particular purchase in mind. Yesterday, it was to buy stone bass, but instead, I left with three handsome soles! They just looked good, plump and so shiny that I couldn’t resist. Sole is a great treat for us at home. It’s expensive at twenty euro a kilo but I can and do justify it to myself. After all, I’m a woman and there’s always a way to justify an expensive purchase (like a must-have pair of shoes!). My justification this time being, that if we ordered them in a restaurant, they would be three times the price. Therefore an absolute bargain, husband dear – I saved money!

    One of my three soles being cleaned by the fish monger who removes all the nasty bits and bobs for me!

    So, the evening menu was set. Sole served with baby new potatoes slathered with butter and accompanied by a delicious summer salad. Yum!

    I like to oven bake fish – it’s very simple – butter a large square of foil, place the fish on top, squeeze the juice of half a lemon and grind some sea salt over the top. Seal the foil and bake for 18/20 minutes at 180/190 degrees centigrade. Serve!

    Et Voila!!
    The flesh of the fish just fell off the bone – succulent and sweet. By the end of the meal, we were the three contented souls!
     
    Next week, I’ll take on the monster monkfish and cook him handsome!