Monthly Archives: September 2014

Home Cured Ham

Producing home cured ham is incredibly easy to do and so much better than mass produced shop-bought products. To begin with, there are no unpleasant ‘E’ numbers to upset your body’s natural balance or excess water to bulk out the weight and, in so doing, raise the price. Home cured ham simply tastes much better and it’s a fun thing to do.

I buy all my charcuterie products from Weschenfelder in the UK. They are easy to deal with and, if like me, you are living outside the United Kingdom, they will send an order through the mail system for a most reasonable cost. Visit their site at: www.weschenfelder.co.uk

From my butcher, I selected a fresh loin of pork – about two kilos in weight. The meat was submerged in a solution made up with Weschenfelder’s Quick Cure Salts and I added rosemary, bay leaves and black peppercorns to enhance the flavour. The meat was turned daily for four days. At the end of this period, I simmered the meat in a water bath for about an hour. Using a meat thermometer, I checked the temperature until the loin reached 71 degrees centigrade.

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Absolutely delicious! Home cured ham!!

Allow the ham to cool before slicing and tasting!! It was succulent with a hint of sweetness and beats any mass produced ‘cardboard’ ham bought in a supermarket.

 

Moroccan Lamb

This is always a huge hit in my house and is one of my favourite dinner party dishes because it can be prepared in advance. The aromas from the kitchen are enticing and create a warm feel to conjure up the exotic essence of North African cuisine.

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Rainbow ingredients!

I love the food of Morocco; I love the colours created by the spices and fresh vegetables, especially their tantalisingly heaven sent aromas! I love food markets; the hustle and bustle, the choices and the throng of human interaction. I am always excited by the prospect of exploring a new market, especially in a foreign country – I am always looking for something that is new and that will broaden my culinary knowledge so that I can create a different taste experience. That said, I was not at all prepared for the experience was about to befall me!

Living in the south of Portugal, it is a relatively simple journey to travel to Morocco and so, some months ago, we did just that. Within ninety minutes we had crossed the border into Spain and then approximately three hours after that, we arrived at the port of Tarifa. From Tarifa, ferries run at regular intervals to Tanger (Tangier) in Morocco – the journey time is only 35 minutes. To me, the ferry was like a ‘tardis’ – it sailed forward in nautical miles and backward in time – how can two lands be so geographically close, yet light years apart? Now you might be thinking – this woman has spent too much time on the King’s Road, or cocooned in middle class suburban life – if so, you are wrong! I have travelled widely and worked in developing countries  – often, avoiding the luxury, anonymity and sterility of five star hotels, so as to dip into the customs and cultures of other communities. I have learnt that it takes a long time to become immersed in and to understand or appreciate what makes another culture tick. All that said – I was totally unprepared for the cacophonous sound, putrid stench of rotting fish and garbage, together with the aggressive nature of the local men that greeted us on docking at Tanger. On exiting the ferry’s stern on foot, we and other travellers, were subjected to a stampede of advancing barefoot porters in long white caftans and jellabas, tugging bags and cases from our hands and shoulders; in desperate attempts to earn a few Dirhams as a ‘guide’ for the day, to subject one to a death-defying taxi ride, introduce an hotel or restaurant or to take you for tea to the shop of a brother, brother-in-law or uncle who sells the best carpets, coats, bags, blankets and trinketry! It was thoroughly exhausting because these chaps just don’t take no for an answer. I am a great supporter of those who want to work and, for respectful treatment, would have given generously. However, the persistence of these rapacious men, young and old, was menacing; making even the most mild mannered recipient, resort to demonstratively wild gesticulations and inappropriate language, in order to convey the message – no thank you. The wearisome thing was when one such ‘guide’ got the message – turning on his heel and spouting angry words of disappointment – another arrived to chance his luck!

Eventually, we made our way to the kasbah where the spice, vegetable, meat and fish markets were located. I enjoyed the experience, colours and evocative bouquets of the spices piled high in pyramids, mingling with the earthy aromas of freshly ground coffees. There were hundreds of similar stands, but we were thankful and fortunate to find one very helpful and knowledgeable vendor (pictured below as he prepared his own special blend of ‘ras al hanout’,) who truly heartened us and went some way to balancing our initial impression of the country. I’ll not mention the fish and meat markets, suffice to say, I will be slightly more accepting of some of the seemingly ‘nanny-state’ regulations governing food hygiene in the European Union.

The ‘up’ side of our shopping experience in Tangier was the availability and choice of herbs and spices, on sale at very agreeable prices. Our visit was an eye opening experience; but I will be better prepared when we next return. So, with shopping baskets loaded with two varieties of olives, cinnamon, ginger, cumin, nutmeg, coriander seeds and powder, paprika, cloves, turmeric, precious strands of orange saffron and a special spice mix particular to each vendor ‘ras al hanout’ meaning ‘top of the shop’; and avoiding the sellers of Berber rugs, ceramic plates, brass tea pots and lanterns, we headed back to the port to be transported back to Spain on the next available ‘tardis’.

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Mixing spices to make up ‘ras al hanout’!

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The spice and vegetable souk. A wondrous variety of olives!

My Moroccan lamb dish works well with a combination of vegetables and can be adjusted to individual taste. I like the flavours to be prominent, but others may prefer a more subtle result – if so, just lessen the ginger and cinnamon. Keep tasting as you go – my recipe serves as a launch pad, it’s fun to experiment and produce your own individual dish. Serve with cous-cous or rice.

 

 

Moroccan Lamb

Prep Time: 40 Mins Cooking Time: 3 Hours Total Time: 3 Hours 40 Mins

Ingredients:

  • Shoulder or leg of lamb (frozen is fine)
  • Bottle of red wine
  • 1 litre of stock
  • 3 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 4 tbsp of olive oil
  • 1 large onion sliced
  • 2 carrots chopped
  • 1 butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and cubed
  • 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 350g chopped tomatoes
  • 10 cherry tomatoes
  • squeeze of tomato puree
  • 1 tablespoon of cinnamon powder
  • 2cm piece of fresh ginger, thinly sliced and chopped
  • 1/2 cup of pitted chopped dates
  • 1 tablespoon of honey
  • 10 whole pitted dates
  • 1/2 cup of sultanas
  • salt and Pepper
  • juice of 1 lemon 
  • zest of one lemon to garnish
  • Chopped almonds to garnish
  • Bunch of fresh coriander, chopped to garnish

Directions:

  1. If using frozen lamb, defrost thoroughly.
  2. Slow roast the lamb in a stock mix and add fresh rosemary sprigs and bay leaves. Seal the roasting pan with foil and place in an oven on a slow temperature 150/160 degrees centigrade for 3 hours. When cooked, the meat should be tender and fall off the bone. Set the meat aside once taken off the bone.
  3. In a large deep pan or wok, add the olive oil – add the onion, carrots, butternut squash, ginger and garlic.
  4. Add the ginger and cinnamon. Add the chopped tomatoes and squeeze of tomato paste.
  5. Add the chopped dates and the lemon juice.
  6. Add the honey. Mix together thoroughly.
  7. Add salt and pepper to your taste. Keep tasting the sauce and adjust as necessary depending on your taste for sweetness or sharpness.
  8. Add the whole dates and sultanas.
  9. Simmer until all the vegetables are cooked and the spices have developed.
  10. Add the lamb meat and mix together to combine thoroughly. 
  11. Ladle into a large dish.
  12. Garnish with almonds, the zest of a lemon and freshly chopped coriander.
  13. Serve with cous-cous or rice.

Crusty bread loaf, loaded with garlic, cheese and topped with caramelised onion

I know why I am packing on the pounds – take a look at this crusty loaf, oozing with cheese, garlic and silky green olive oil; and it will be plain for the world to see. It’s plain for me to see, but I can’t seem to help myself as I am enjoying a slower pace of life and, in particular, writing about food. Now that I am not on a frantic schedule to run a commercial kitchen, writing about food means cooking and experimenting with different ingredients and that by implication is adding up to an expanding waist line. Why wasn’t I born to be one of those people happy to push a piece of lettuce and cucumber around a plate? Alas no, God blessed me with an appetite and a passion for food – good, wholesome, calorific food!! I will make a resolution for the new year to eat in moderation (yes, I know it’s only September but I need time to prepare) – ‘all things in moderation!’ Sensible people giving sound advice to the young – oh, how I hated the memory of those pious words! It made me want to be all the more demonstrative. Do it big! Go the whole way!! Apply lashings of butter and add another dollop of double cream! Watch out for the headline – ‘Wife Spontaneously Combusts!!!

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Ready to be wrapped in foil and baked.

Enough pontification about me. You’ll be more interested in the cheesy bread, therefore – to the post in hand (about to be in mouth)! This is so easy to prepare and is so very, very good and hunger busting. Buy (or bake) a quality crusty loaf of white bread. With a sharp bread knife cut the loaf vertically and horizontally, leaving the base in tact. I used two types of cheese ( Red Leicester and Brie), because that is what I had available in the fridge. Cut the cheeses into strips and wedge between the cuts. Spike with slices of garlic. Drizzle with olive oil. Wrap in foil and heat through in the oven at 170 degrees centigrade for about 25 minutes.

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After 25 minutes baking in foil – remove the wrap ~drizzle with more olive oil and pop it back in the oven for another 5 to 10 minutes.

Remove the foil, drizzle with more olive oil and bake for a further 5 or 10 minutes allowing the cheeses to melt more and the garlic to soften and infuse. While this is happening, cut a red onion (or white onion) into thin slices and pan fry in butter and olive oil. Laddle over the top of the bread and serve. Cured pork loin or air dried ham is a perfect companion. What a wonderfully satisfying lunch or accompaniment to a salad. Great also to share as a starter at a dinner party!

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Good enough to eat!

 

Leg of Lamb, slow roasted with a Ruby Port and Red Currant Sauce

Lamb is always a treat, especially so here in Portugal as imported meat is quite expensive; but I was fortunate enough to stumble across a fresh plump looking leg in a local butcher’s shop that didn’t break the bank so I couldn’t resist. I normally avoid Portuguese lamb as it often seems scrawny and lacking in fat. Well, I suppose I would be if my main source of fodder had to be scavenged from the rocky and sun burnt pastures that are typical of the Algarve hinterland. The leg of lamb that I caught sight of, was an Irish import, reared where lush green grass is luxuriant and baby lambs frolic carelessly unaware of the fate that awaits them! Portuguese lambs are not afforded this blithe existence, prior to ending up on the butcher’s block, later to be served as tough, tasteless mutton.

My lusciously lovely lamb was destined for a long slow cook, spiked with garlic, in Portuguese Ruby Port – the wine and water bath (300ml Port and 300ml water) accompanied by sprigs of rosemary and thyme. The liquid should be enough to provide a depth of about 300mm.

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Leg of lamb rubbed with olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt, spiked with garlic in a bath of Ruby Port/water and flavoured with sprigs of rosemary and thyme.

Once the lamb is dressed to roast slowly in the oven – 150 degrees centigrade for three hours – cover the dish tightly with aluminium foil.

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Beautifully tender lamb which carves easily, full of sweet rich flavour.

I served the lamb with roasted potatoes and carrots, dressed with a generous pouring of the Port and redcurrant sauce. The ‘dollop’ of butter is, of course, optional but irresistible!!

 

Ruby Port and Redcurrant Sauce

Prep Time: 10 Mins Cooking Time: 30 Mins Total Time: 40 Mins

Ingredients:

  • 200/250 ml of ruby Port (If you have used a Port and water mixture in which to slow roast your lamb, then strain and use this liquid).
  • 2 tablespoons of redcurrant jelly
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 2 sprigs of rosemary
  • a knob of butter
  • salt and pepper

Directions:

  1. If using the cooking juices from the lamb (half Port and half water), strain the liquid into a saucepan. I have a separating jug which is a great tool to separate the fat/oil from the liquid.
  2. If starting from scratch, pour the Port into a saucepan, add the crushed garlic and redcurrant jelly. On a gentle heat simmer until the jelly has dissolved. Add the rosemary and salt/pepper to taste.
  3. If using the roasting liquids, add an extra splash of the Port, then follow as the step above.
  4. Simmer to reduce the liquid. Remove the rosemary sprigs.
  5. Taste the sauce and adjust if necessary to add a splash of water, more salt or pepper.
  6. Add a good knob of butter and continue to simmer the sauce – this will make the sauce thicken and give it a glossy texture.

Chicken Breasts with Sweet Soy, Plums & Cherry Tomatoes

This is a great favourite with my family and it’s so easy and quick to prepare. I have a cast iron ‘plancha’ with which I love to cook, but it’s equally easy to prepare in a large, solid based frying pan.

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Butterfly Chicken Breast with Sweet Soy, Ginger and Garlic, served with plums, cherry tomatoes and black rice.

I was first taken with ‘plancha-style’ cooking while on holiday some months ago in the Basque region of France. It’s a great way to cook a variety of foods, and I find it easier to control than a traditional barbecue. It is superb for griddling a diverse variety of foods – flat fish, prawns, steaks and vegetables, like aubergines and courgettes.

Last night, I chose butterfly chicken breasts which had been marinated in dark sweet soy, ginger and garlic for an hour or so. They were accompanied on the ‘plancha’ with halved plums and cherry tomatoes, then served with black ‘Venere’ rice and garnished with fresh coriander. It was a triumph of flavours – rich, salty, sharp and sweet. Simply ……… yummy, scrumptious!

 

Chicken Breasts with Plums and Sweet Soy

Ingredients:

  • 4 chicken breast (free range is preferable), butterflied
  • 2 tablespoons of sunflower oil
  • 3 tablespoons of dark soy sauce
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • A thumb size piece of ginger, grated or thinly sliced
  • 8 plums, halved and stoned
  • 8 cherry tomatoes
  • A small bunch of coriander leaves, finely chopped
  • Sea salt and ground black pepper
  • Black ‘Venere’ or plain white rice (80/100g per person)

Directions:

  1. Butterfly the chicken breasts and place in a dish with the marinade ingredients – soy sauce, garlic and ginger. Leave for at least 2 hours.
  2. Boil a saucepan of water and add the black rice. Cook until soft (approx 18/20 minutes), topping up the water as necessary.
  3. Heat the frying pan or ‘plancha’ and add the oil. Cook the chicken breast turning every 2 or 3 minutes with the plums and cherry tomatoes. Baste with the juices.
  4. Drizzle over any remaining marinade.
  5. When cooked, set aside.
  6. Drain the rice and serve together with the chicken, plums and tomatoes. Garnish with the coriander, sea salt and ground pepper.

Lasagne – loaded with lusciousness!!

This is my ‘queen’ of lasagnes! It is loaded with luscious fresh ingredients and it’s gluttonously good. It is rich, filling and wholesome and a great dish for those colder evenings; for ravenous teenagers returning home after school or something satisfying to look forward to after a long day at work, as it can be prepared in advance and kept in the fridge.  I like to serve it with either a green salad or garden peas. Either way, it is always a welcome meal in our house. Alas, you won’t lose weight eating it, but sometimes – so what! It freezes really well, so I usually make up a large tray, cut it into portion sizes and freeze it for lazy days or when I don’t have time to prepare a meal from scratch. It is also much more healthy than buying pre-made lasagnes which are often loaded with chemicals and  preservatives. I can guarantee it will definitely be more tasty!

This is my quick ‘how to make’ in photos, followed by the recipe!

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Slice the aubergines and salt to drain the bitter juices.

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Pan fry the aubergines.

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Chop and pan-fry the ‘rainbow’ vegetables.

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Add the tomatoes and liquid ingredients.

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Cover with béchamel sauce and grated cheese. Bake!

This lasagne can also be made leaving out the meat. It contains so many vegetables and more can be added, such as spinach and courgettes. The variations are endless! With fresh sheets of pasta so easily available to buy in the supermarkets and given it can be made for the freezer, why buy a factory made version? Give it a go – it’s always fun to cook!

 

 

 

Lasagne!

Prep Time: 1 Hour Cooking Time: 35 Mins Total Time: 1 Hour 35 Mins

Ingredients:

  • 4 tablespoons of olive oil + additional for frying the aubergine slices.
  • 2 large aubergine, sliced
  • 2 red onions, chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 3 or 4 leeks, cut into 1cm slices
  • 2 sweet red peppers, chopped
  • 4 large tomatoes chopped, or a tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 sticks of celery, chopped
  • 1 cup of white wine
  • A squeeze of tomato paste
  • 1kg of minced meat ( I use half beef and half pork)
  • a tablespoon of dried oregano
  • 4 sheets of fresh lasagne
  • 150g grated cheese
  • FOR THE BECHAMEL SAUCE: 60/70g of butter,1/3 cup plain flour, 4 1/2 cups of milk, 75g of parmesan cheese, finely grated, pinch of salt, pinch of nutmeg.

Directions:

  1. Salt the sliced aubergines and leave to sweat in a colander. This gets rid of the sour juices.
  2. Wash and dry off the aubergines.
  3. In a saucepan with olive oil, pan fry the aubergines, then set aside on kitchen towel to soak up the excess oil.
  4. In a large pan, add the olive oil, onions, garlic, leeks, peppers, tomatoes, celery.
  5. Add salt and pepper and fry gently for 10 minutes. Add the wine. Then, add the tomato paste and oregano. Simmer.
  6. Add the meat, and mix to combine all the ingredients – making sure the meats cook through.
  7. If the mixture has too much liquid, make up a paste of cornflour and water (as directed on the cornflour packet) to thicken.
  8. Set aside.
  9. Make the béchamel sauce: Melt the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat. Add the flour. Keep stirring for 1 to 2 minutes until bubbling. Remove from the heat. Slowly add the milk, stirring until mixture is smooth  and then then return to the heat . Cook on for about 10 minutes, keeping the sauce lump free. Take off the heat and add the parmesan, salt and nutmeg.
  10. In a large oven dish, spoon in a layer of the meat mixture and dot over some of the aubergine slices. Add a layer of pasta, another layer of the meat mixture, a few aubergines, another layer of pasta, a layer of meat and then the last aubergines. Pour over the béchamel sauce. 
  11. Sprinkle the top with grated cheese and a sprinkle of dried oregano.
  12. Bake in the oven at 180/190 degrees centigrade for 35 minutes.

Salt Cod (Bacalhau) with Rough Mashed Potatoes and Cream

Dried salt cod (Bacalhau) is, unarguably, the most outstanding ingredient in Portuguese cuisine. The tradition of drying and salting this fish dates back to the 15th century and was/is a method of preservation. Caught in the cold wild seas of the North Atlantic, the fish was salted in the hold of the ship and kept, sometimes, for many months or years. Given salt cod is not caught off Portuguese shores, it is bizarre that it became such an important part of Portugal’s food culture. On average, a Portuguese person eats around 10kg of dried salted fish per year and it is the main ingredient served in celebration at Christmas. It is used in hundreds of dishes and can be cooked in a multitude of ways; but I have chosen one of my favourite methods –  known in Portugal as bacalhau com nata (cod with cream)! I state now, that it is my recipe! The Portuguese are very possessive about their cuisine and I know that one of the cooks that I worked with in my restaurant, here in Portugal, would have raised her eyebrows ….. and more. Forgive me, Cristina!

 

All supermarkets here sell bacalhau or dried salt cod. In its preserved state, it looks quite unappetising. Miracles happen after soaking in water as the meat starts to take on its original form.

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I always ask the fishmonger to cut the fish for me into pieces easier to soak in a pan.

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It is important to soak the fish for at least 2 days, changing the water regularly.

Remove the fish from the water, rinse and place in a baking dish. Cover with milk or a mix or milk and water; seal the tray with foil and bake in the oven for 40 minutes at 180 degrees centigrade. Remove the dish from the oven – be careful when peeling the foil off (steam’s hot!) – remove the cod from the liquid and allow to cool.


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Thick flakes of juicy cod.

The white meat will flake away very easily. For me the next part is very important!! Take time to remove any bones – I pick over the meat fastidiously – as I know that my son would down knife and fork instantly on unearthing any offending item.

Follow the recipe below to create the creamy sauce – and then combine all the components. Serve with buttered carrots. It’s absolutely fishilicious!!


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Add the vegetables to the pan and simmer until softened

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Serve with cracked black pepper and buttered carrots!

Bacalhau (salt cod) with vegetables and cream

Prep Time: 30 Mins Cooking Time: 40 Mins Total Time: 1 Hour 20 Mins

Ingredients:

  • 4 tbsp of olive oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 sticks of celery, thinly sliced
  • 1 large leek, thinly sliced
  • 2 carrots, thinly sliced
  • I cup of fish stock
  • bacalhau, soaked, cooked and flaked – discarding the skin and bones
  • bunch of parsley, chopped
  • a knob of butter
  • 200ml of cream
  • 600/700g of potatoes
  • salt (be cautious as the fish will be salty, despite soaking)
  • pepper

Directions:

  1. In a large deep pan, add the olive oil.
  2. Add the garlic, celery, leek and carrot.
  3. Add a pinch of salt and pepper.
  4. Cook for 5 minutes and add the fish stock. (I make stock in batches and freeze it like ice cubes)
  5. Simmer until the vegetables soften. Add a splash of water if the mixture becomes too thick.
  6. While the sauce is simmering, boil the potatoes. When cooked add a knob of butter and rough mash the potatoes. Set aside.
  7. Add the cream to the sauce and mix together.
  8. Gently fold in the flaked fish, rough mashed potatoes and parsley.
  9. You can serve the meal at this stage (carrots are a great accompaniment) or transfer to an oven proof dish, sprinkle the top with some grated cheese and bake for 10 minutes at about 180/190 degrees centigrade.
  10. Enjoy!

Fish Pasta – Paulo’s recipe!

Last night we feasted heartily on two plump sea bass (see my previous post), but the quantity of meat yielded, meant that there was enough over for a recipe that I had wanted to try following a ‘foodie’ conversation with a young Portuguese waiter that works in the restaurant at our local golf club in Espiche. He is enormously enthusiastic about food and flavours and, for his young years (to me, anyone under 40 is young), he really knows his stuff! He recounted to me how he gained this knowledge and appreciation of food and flavour combinations while working alongside his mother and grandmother. It is unusual to find a young person these days with such a joyous passion for food and, therefore, I wanted to share his recipe!

Like many Portuguese recipes, it’s quite simple to prepare and therefore, simply healthy and delicious. Using fresh ingredients, the flavours marry together very well. I served a bowl to my son (photographed below) at lunchtime – he is always hungry – and he loved it! What a fabulous way to use up the leftovers! Thank you Paulo for the inspiration!

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“Hey Mum, I’m eating! Promise you won’t publish that photo!” – “Of course not, Jonathan!”

 

 

Paulo’s Portuguese Fish Pasta

Ingredients:

  • 500g (approx), white fish (cod) or salmon – baked and flaked
  • 500g Penne pasta (fresh is best) 
  • 1 red onion chopped
  • 1 large sweet red pepper, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 3 large tomatoes, chopped
  • A good squeeze of tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons of Portuguese Moscatel Wine (or Vermouth)
  • Small bunch of coriander
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 1 fresh lemon
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil

Directions:

  1. For this recipe, I used some sea bass that I had cooked the previous night. Any white fish or salmon fillet can be used. Just wrap in foil with butter and salt and bake for 15/20 mins at 180 degrees centigrade. Flake, removing any bones and set aside.
  2. In a saucepan, bring salted water to the boil in preparation for the pasta.
  3. In a large frying pan add the olive oil, onion, pepper, garlic and tomatoes. Simmer for 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper, tomato paste and the Moscatel wine.
  4. Simmer until the vegetables are soft and the liquid reduces a little.
  5. While this is simmering, put the pasta into the boiling water and cook until soft.
  6. Gently mix the cooked fish into the sauce.
  7. Drain the cooked pasta and top with the fish sauce.
  8. Garnish with fresh coriander and a squeeze of lemon. 
  9. Optional – a good twist of sea salt and ground pepper.

Almond, Fig & Carob Cake – a real taste of Portugal

The countryside that surrounds us is plentiful in its bounty and naturally glorious! I love foraging along rugged tracks in search of goodies to take home and cook. Under an azure sky – our summer seems endless – we are blessed to be able to profit from God’s ‘free’ larder. Despite the earth’s exposed red rocky soil and sun scorched pastures, the trees and hedgerows are heavy with fruit. Southern Portugal at the start of September is a good corner of the world to be living in; and I am grateful for this little piece of Eden in a world burdened with the weight of wars and discord. I try not to take my blessings for granted and just pray that more nations can share the harmony and peace, in which I am privileged to live.

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Under an azure sky, we gathered carobs from the ladened trees at Espiche Golf Course.

In search of ingredients to make a most delicious Portuguese speciality, my husband and I incorporated dog walking and a game of golf with costless shopping. I should mention here – in case anyone from the club stumbles upon this post – that we did not walk the dogs on the course! We’d be hung, drawn and quartered for committing such a heinous crime on cherished turf! We may have been guilty of slow play (much to the extreme annoyance of our son, Jonathan, who takes the game very seriously and only graces us with his company under extreme duress or bribery) as we took time to fill two carrier bags with carob pods. The golf course has  numerous carob trees and, at this time of year, they are heavily burdened with rich chocolate coloured pods.

Early on Sunday, before breakfast and the inevitable fierce rays of the sun which will penetrate the clear brilliant blue sky before mid morning, we headed out of the village with two eager dogs to gather a few fresh figs, almonds and quinces. Our mutts, Georgie and Ulrika, are like coiled springs in anticipation of their daily outing – running across open scrub land, searching out new scents in the hope of hunting down some unsuspecting prey. For Georgie, it is a dream. She has no hope of catching anything. A tortoise would have an even chance! She lumbers in search of windfall figs while Ulrika sprints and bounces like a greyhound. They are great companions to us and each other and give much pleasure. In return, we supply pats, comfortable beds, bones and …… above all, food!

The hedgerows and open meadows are bursting with fruit and we quickly filled our bags with ripe green figs, last year’s almonds still protected in their hard husky shells and ugly yellow quinces which will produce the most fragrant jelly. It is better than any supermarket – no one to jostle you, ram you with a trolley, no need to queue at a checkout and, best of all, no need to pay.

Armed with all the ingredients necessary to bake a great Portuguese speciality, I headed to the kitchen. Using the carob pods I produced the powder by breaking them open, discarding the hard seeds and grinding the pods to produce the powder. Carob is deemed healthier than chocolate powder, so no guilt issues when indulging in a second or third slice! I produce my own carob powder because I have the pods in plentiful supply, but knowing the same privilege is not available to those living on the King’s Road, the product can easily be sourced in supermarkets.

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A deliciously moist almond, fig & carob cake!

I am reliably informed that this Portuguese speciality complements a glass of Medronho (fire water) and a small strong black coffee (bica). Medronho is a strong spirit – usually distilled to around 48% alcohol. The berries are picked from a tree of the same name and are usually found growing wild. The drink is very popular with farmers and fishermen and is often drunk at breakfast to wake the spirits! It’s not for me – I’ve no idea what my spirits might get up to if I consumed this at the break of day – but I might be tempted to a little slice of almond, fig and carob cake with my coffee!!

Fig, Almond and Carob Cake

Prep Time: 30 Mins Cooking Time: 35 Mins

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of plain flour
  • 1 cup of light brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 cup of carob powder
  • 1/2 cup oatmeal
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup of chopped almonds
  • 1 cup of chopped figs
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tbsp confectioner’s sugar to dust

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 355 degrees fahrenheit / 150 degrees centigrade.
  2. In a bowl, separate the whites from the yolks. Beat the egg whites into a creamy and even consistency. Set aside.
  3. Mix together the flour, oatmeal, baking powder, carob powder, sugar and honey.
  4. add the olive oil, almonds, figs and milk.
  5. Add the egg yolks to the mixture and then fold in the whites.
  6. Pour the mixture into a greased baking tray.
  7. Bake for 35 minutes.

Atlantic Croaker

This post is published a little late! Travel back in time a just three weeks please!

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Here he is before his meeting with the oven ……..

I needed inspiration for dinner. It’s August (the coast is teeming with tourists) and it’s warm here in Portugal (high 30’s), so didn’t want to prepare anything too heavy. I have also been lacking in energy but feel guilty for being sloth-like! In an effort to summon some inspiration, I took a drive to the fish markets in Lagos, in the hope that something would catch my eye. And it did!! On the quay, there are several seafood specialists, one of which I ambled into – it was humming with activity – and had, in tanks or on display a colourful array of shrimps, prawns, crabs, percebes (barnacles), crawfish, oysters, clams and lobster. Ummhh, I thought! Fresh lobster would be a real treat. Determined to hold my place in the queue (ha! no-one forms an orderly queue on the continent), feet in flip-flops firmly planted to the wet and slimy fish-gut floor, I was spurred on by the price the lady in front of me (Portuguese) had just paid for three lively lobsters of a very respectable size! I was envisaging the dish – prawns and crab claws, topped with a regal lobster, salad and new potatoes – we would enjoy that very evening on the terrace, enjoying the warm summer air, a glass of Chablis or two to help the prized meats slip down while listening to the melodic sound of crickets and birdsong!

No more inspirational shopping for me . . . . we’ll not in August anyway! Driving away from the port in my oven-like car, I headed straight to the counter of my usual fish supplier in town. Confident in the knowledge that his displayed prices were for everyone, I selected a handsome Atlantic Croaker (Corvina in Portuguese).

 Who Needs Lobster?

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And here he is ready to be feasted upon …………..

Who needs lobster? This fine fish did not disappoint us with his sweet flaky white meat. Stuffed with lemon butter, garlic and fresh dill, then sealed in foil and baked in the oven – he fed three of us very generously. The local new potatoes and asparagus from the north of Portugal, garnished with sea salt and slathered with butter were a mouthwatering accompaniment.

We did eat on the terrace – the air was warm but the wind had developed a sharp edge, the sound of birdsong and the melody of the crickets were drown out by the the children next door shrieking in the pool. And I washed the delicious fish down with a glass of two of local plonk! But life was and is still good when one considers the horrors of war and unrest being endured by too many in our world today!

 

Baked Atlantic Croacker

Prep Time: 15 Mins Cooking Time: 30 Mins Total Time: 45 Mins

Ingredients:

  • 1 Croaker fish or similar ( based on 2.5 kilos) which would feed 3 or 4 people
  • 1 large lemon
  • 3 cloves of fresh garlic
  • 3 springs of rosemary
  • 3 sprigs of fresh dill
  • butter
  • sea salt

Directions:

  1. To make the stuffing – mix 2 tablespoons of softened butter with a good squeeze of lemon and the chopped garlic.
  2. Spoon the mixture into the body of the fish (I always ask my fishmonger to prepare the fish for me).
  3. Add half the lemon – sliced, the dill and the rosemary.
  4. Butter a large piece of foil and wrap the fish, making sure that the parcel is air tight.
  5. Bake in a preheated oven (180 degrees) for  about 30 minutes – ovens vary! After 25 minutes check how the fish is cooking by using a thermometer (55 to 60 degrees centigrade).
  6. Serve with a generous sprinkling of sea salt and a good squeeze of lemon. The meat should just flake away from the bone.