Monthly Archives: July 2016

Lemon Cheesecake

I love all things lemony and living here in Portugal lemons are plentiful year round with many trees producing the fruit continuously. The tree originated in Asia but is now synonymous with Mediterranean climates such as ours here in Portugal. The tree in my garden doesn’t produce fruit all year round but that doesn’t limit my free supply as they drop from neighbours trees in the village and roll down the road, arriving on my doorstep as welcome guests.

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With visitors from the village where we used to live in France and a basket full of lemons, I decided to make a lemon cheesecake that would be a good balance and cut the rich flavours of our main course – lamb shanks in red wine with figs.

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Lemon Cheesecake

Prep Time: 20 Mins Cooking Time: 2 Hours Total Time: 2 Hours 20 Mins

Ingredients:

  • 200g digestive biscuits, crushed finely
  • 100g of softened butter
  • 397g condensed milk
  • 300g soft cheese like Mascarpone
  • Juice and zest of 2 lemons
  • 3 tablespoons of lemon curd
  • Extra lemon zest to garnish
  • Fruits such as blueberries, raspberries and blackberries
  • Pouring cream (optional)
  • 20 cm loose bottom cake tin

Directions:

  1. Crush the digestive biscuits and mix thoroughly with the softened butter.
  2. Line the bottom of the cake tin with baking paper and butter the sides.
  3. Press the crumb mixture into the bottom of the tin and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
  4. In a bowl mix the condensed milk and soft cheese with a whisk.
  5. Add the juice and zest of 2 lemons. This will thicken the mixture.
  6. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Release the cake tin and put on a plate.
  7. Add a teaspoon of warm water to the lemon curd and spread over the top.
  8. Decorate the top with the fresh fruits and garnish with the extra lemon zest.
  9. Serve with cream (optional)

PIGGILIOUS! A day in the Monchique mountains

 

What do you do when friends and family visit from the United Staes of America? Take them to a pig farm in the remote mountains of the Serra de Monchique, of course!

These are no ordinary visitors or tourists – simply not content to idle away hours on the beautiful beaches of the Portuguese Algarve coast or meander through the cobbled streets and alleyways of the historic town of Lagos, nor browse the  tourist boutiques and bars; so we went in search of the famous Iberian black pig. And we found them, hundred and hundreds of them, wallowing contentedly in thick, gooey mud.

The drive from Lagos in the western Algarve took us away from the densely  populated coastal plain and within a few minutes the scenery changed dramatically as we weaved our way slowly up the hill side, passing cafés, restaurants, fruit sellers and pottery shops. The A266 bends and twists through areas of densely wooded pine and eucalyptus forest, then as the road turns, opens up from time to time to display magnificent valleys, lush and inviting, with small white washed buildings and quintas (farms)  scattered in random fashion. It was, for the most part, a relaxing and enjoyable drive, except for the presence of a few sun-baked drivers clearly blessed with the ability to see around blind bends otherwise I am sure they wouldn’t have been reckless enough to undertake some of the death-defying manoeuvres we witnessed!

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After fifty minutes or so, we reached the small spa town of Monchique, famous for its carbonated spring waters, rich in sodium and fluoride and known to aid respiratory, bone, muscular and digestive problems. High above sea level, yet only twenty kilometres from the coast, it has been a spa resort since Roman times. These days, however, Monchique is well-known for its handicrafts, production of Medronho, a liquor made from the fruits of the arbutus (strawberry) tree, honey and products from the black pig.

Our guests were not interested in handicrafts, nicknacks or traditional souvenirs, so we continued our journey (comfortably secured into the mini-bus they’d hired), leaving the town of Monchique behind us and took a road that climbed steeply and deeper into the lush vegetation. On previous visits to the area and being ‘foodies’ ourselves, we had recalled noticing a sign for a producer of traditional sausages and cured hams and, therefore, my husband Peter was intent on following the trail. The single track, pot-holed dusty road weaved precariously as we clung to the hillside and negotiated a couple of hairpin bends. Peter, the nominated driver, struggled in places to keep the engine engaged as he changed down into low gear to propel the heavy people-ladened vehicle slowly up the narrow incline. There was a point at which, due to mounting fear for our safety, I was going to suggest we abandon the quest (not that there were any places to make a u-turn) but thankfully I held my tongue, because as we rounded a corner, the road widened and in front of us was a welcome sign of life and the distinctive odour of pig. A proud sign proclaiming ‘Enchidos e Presuntos Tradicionais’ and a warm welcome from the owner, who by luck, was in the courtyard, confirmed that our journey would be worth it.

Climbing out of our air-conditioned wagon, the sultry heat of the mid morning sun combined with the pungent smell of the livestock caught our senses. The patron, who introduced himself as Antonio Duarte, had kindly offered to give us a tour of the farm and show us the line of production. We were all thrilled and delighted that our mission would be accomplished. Amongst our jolly party, we had three wine makers, a cheese maker and two producers of cured meats and sausages all of whom were keen to experience and learn about the traditional processes used in Portugal. Other members of the group were just happy to savour the results!  DuarteSo we began our tour with a slow walk up a dusty hillside track from which we could catch glimpses of the town below to be greeted by droves of penned black pigs languishing happily in sodden mud.

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Donning shoe protectors, hair nets and plastic aprons, we were invited into the inner sanctum of the factory as Senhor Duarte described to us how they produce their delicious fayre by adhering to age old traditions. It is a long established family business and Antonio works alongside his mother Idália and other siblings. They are enormously proud of the history and quality of their produce and it is plain to feel the joy and passion that exudes from his very being. We learn about the lengthy process of producing cured hams and how the traditional sausages are smoked. The mixture of herbs in the recipé is, of course, not divulged but we are given a clue and can taste the presence of cinnamon.

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Following a tasting of the products and a little retail therapy, the over-riding feeling I had when we left was one of great enthusiasm – Senhor Duarte loves what he does and is fiercely proud. The man radiated a passion for the product – producing the best, without compromise, is paramount. It all starts, for him, with the well-being of his animals. They are not fed with chemicals and this is evident in the taste and quality of the end product. Intelligent and poignant questions were posed from those in our party with a knowledge of the process and it was endorsed that many of the mass produced products sold more cheaply in the supermarkets and cleverly branded are simply not the same. It is the old adage – you get out what you put in and what you pay for!

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Smoking the sausages

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And then the best part – the tasting – those lovely, happy ‘plumptious’ pigs did not die in vain and all the efforts and skills of Senhor Duarte, his mother, siblings and ancestors have not be fruitless. We feasted!