Author Archives for Ann Laws

About Ann Laws

I really did arrive on the last banana boat! My teenage son loves telling people this. Having been born in Ghana in 1960, we used to travel from Africa to Liverpool, on bi-annual leave, aboard one of the Elder Dempster Line's 'banana boats' which ferried fresh produce and supplies between West Africa and the UK. Our days in Africa were charmed and this adventurous period of my young life was probably the catalyst to my inherent wanderlust and inability, until recently, to settle in one place. Returning to school and life in England during my early teenage years was an unwelcome shock and one that I and my mother both rebelled against in different ways. For my part, it was the confinement of regular school, tedious routine and being made to wear shoes. For my mother it was the general drabness of life which led her to implode and withdraw socially from the world despite having two children to look after. At the time, my father was working in Libya during a difficult political period and struggled to cope with my mother's mental desertion which quickly developed into social isolation and a serious food phobia. During my later adolescence and into my mid twenties, I felt something important was missing in my life. That 'something' was food. Not just meagre bland food to sustain life - the sort I'd been brought up on but food to prepare, savour, share and enjoy. It wasn't really until I left university and was working for a publishing house in London that I identified this void in my life. The joy of learning to cook so that I could entertain friends brought me some stability, creativity and pleasure. To prepare food for family and friends is an act of love. Some of my happiest times have been spent around a table in the company of my precious family and good friends, chatting and putting the world to rights. The dining table is a great place to talk, resolve problems, encourage, plan and debate. I have been fortunate to have lived in Asia and to have travelled extensively for both work and pleasure. This has enabled me, through my love of food and cooking, to enjoy and better understand the nuances of other cultures. It may be naive, but in today's world of unrest and turmoil, perhaps a few of our illustrious leaders could improve their domestic and international relationships, if they were to share a meal and take time to listen, discuss and understand. Sharing food at a table allows time to talk and through communication, problems are shared and often solved. I missed this stability during my teenage years but it's better discovered late than never. Having had an assortment of occupations in publishing, print and real estate, a 'chambers d'hôte' and guest restaurant in France, a restaurant in Portugal; I am now working at a golf resort and living with my family in southern Portugal while finding time to blog and write my second novel.

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.


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.


Lemon Cheesecake

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


  • 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


  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!


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.




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.

IMG_8100  IMG_8106

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!


Smoking the sausages





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!

Easy-Peasy Twirly-Wurly Chicken Pasta

This is an easy-peasy delicious evening meal. I’ve made it with unusual ‘twirly wurly’  coloured pasta which children love! There are no hard and fast ingredients as far as vegetable choice goes. I used five of my favourite – chopped and sliced – onion, leek, celery, garlic and Italian red pepper. Put 3 tablespoons of a good olive oil into a pan and add the vegetables apart from the garlic. Cook on a medium heat to soften. Season with salt and pepper. Add a ‘glug’ of white Vermouth and allow the flavours to combine – 5 minutes. At this point, I added the garlic and  some smoked lardons and the sliced chicken breasts (1 per person). Cook through thoroughly.  Boil the pasta. When the pasta is cooked, drain it and add it to the chicken/vegetable sauce. Take the pan off the heat and mix through a 100ml of cream. Serve with freshly chopped basil and flakes of Parmesan cheese. A great addition would be mushrooms! Alas, on this occasion I was cooking for children with an aversion to this delicious funghi! For the adults, I dizzled a little sweetened Balsamic vinegar. Simple and yummilicious!




Flaked Fillet of Salmon with a Medley of Mediterranean Vegetables

Strictly no salt, butter or dairy products. No chocolate or coffee! That was the damming verdict of the doctor who is treating my husband for alarmingly high blood pressure.

Hubby, being a non smoker and having already given up alcohol, may just have, then and there, thrown in the towel.  I selfishly lamented the decrement of my culinary creativity and cast off my crown as ‘Queen of the Cream’.  Mon Dieu, quelle catastrophe!  With a penchant for French cuisine and cream based sauces, these words were neither welcome or pleasing. Not to make immediate changes to his diet and continue blithely, I would have been complicit in his premature demise – the doctor’s words were both somber and sobering. Determined to see it as a challenge to my creativity and to increase my understanding and knowledge of alternative flavour enhancers; I am enjoying working with new ingredients and combinations of herbs and spices.

With all this at the forefront of my mind, I concocted yesterday evening’s meal by baking and flaking salmon fillet and mixing it with a medley of finely chopped Mediterranean vegetables served with fluffy rice. I used more pepper than usual, lots of garlic (proven to be very good for the heart) and just a touch of fresh ginger to give a hint of tanginess. And all without a grain of salt!

Flaked Fillet of Salmon with a Medley of Mediterranean Vegetables


  • 350g of salmon fillet
  • 3 large cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 2 shallots, chopped finely
  • 1 large leek, chopped finely
  • 1 stick of celery, chopped finely
  • 1 courgette, chopped finely
  • 1 sweet red pepper, chopped finely
  • 1 large tomato, deseeded and chopped finely
  • 1/2 tsp of pepper
  • 1cm piece of freshly chopped ginger
  • 2 tbsp of good olive oil
  • a squeeze of lemon
  • chopped parsley or basi to garnish


  1. SERVES 2
  2. Wrap/seal the salmon fillet in foil that has been lightly oiled. A squeeze of lemon juice is good.
  3. Bake in a preheated oven (180 degrees centigrade / 350 degrees Fahrenheit) for 15 minutes.
  4. Open the foil and flake the salmon when cool.
  5. Place all the chopped vegetables in a pan with 2 tablespoons of oil olive and cook gently for 20 minutes.
  6. Mix the flaked salmon with the medley of vegetables and serve on a bed of rice or olive oil mashed potatoes.


Tartiflette is a French dish from the Savoie and Haute Savoie region of France. It is traditionally made with potatoes, Reblochon cheese, lardons and onions. The name tartiflette derives from the Savoyard word for potatoes – tartifles. It is now a very popular dish on menus at restaurants in the ski resorts of France.

For my recipe, I have used a raclette cheese (when melted, it becomes runny), because Reblochon is not available here in Portugal; or if it is, I haven’t found it!


I have used a raclette cheese, in place of the traditional Reblochon.

I love this dish! It can be prepared in advance and reheated and it is wonderfully satisfying, creamy and comforting. It is a great accompaniment with plain roast or grilled meat.


Once the potatoes, bacon/lardons and onions have been fried, transfer to an oven proof dish, weave the pieces of cheese between the ingredients, season and pour over the cream. Cover with foil and cook in the oven at 170 degrees centigrade for 50/60 minutes.



  • 4/5 medium waxy potatoes (approx 700g)
  • 3/4 tbsp of olive oil
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 300g of smoked bacon or lardons
  • 200g of Reblochon or Raclette Cheese, sliced or cubed.
  • 200ml cream


  1. SERVES 4
  2. Peel and thickly slice the potatoes. Boil in salted water for about 10 minutes.
  3. While the potatoes are boiling, add the olive oil to a frying pan and fry the onion for about 5 minutes.
  4. Add the bacon and fry for another 5 minutes.
  5. Drain the potatoes and add to the frying pan. Brown for a few minutes.
  6. Transfer all the ingredients from the frying pan to an oven proof dish. Season.
  7. Put the Raclette or Reblochon cheese into the potato mix.
  8. Pour over the cream.
  9. Cover with foil and bake gently in the oven for 50/60 minutes.

Scallop & Prawn Sea-sation!

This was my Sunday Sea-sation treat to the family!

Living here in Portugal, very close to the Atlantic coast, we are very lucky to have oceans of fresh fish to feast on. And feast on it we do, but yesterday I decided, instead, to delve deep into my freezer for some lovely treats, also originally from the sea!

Scallops and prawns are a great combination – these beauties pictured here, I dressed with a creamy shallot, leek and celery sauce, perched aloft some delicious new boiled locally grown potatoes. The combination was a triumph and it’s success was confirmed by the words of my teenage son, “Can I have more Mum?”

Scallop and Prawn Sea-sation!


  • FOR 4 PEOPLE (Main course):
  • 12 large scallops (mine had tails on)
  • 16 large raw prawns, peeled
  • 500/600g of new potatoes
  • 2 small leeks, finely chopped
  • 1 stick of celery finely chopped
  • 2 small spring onions, finely chopped
  • a cup of white wine
  • 200ml of cream
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • sweet balsamic vinegar to drizzle and chopped parsley to garnish


  1. Defrost and peel the prawns if frozen. Defrost the scallops if frozen.
  2. In a pan, with a tablespoon of heated olive oil, fry and season the vegetables.
  3. Add the wine and reduce for 5 to 10 minutes minutes.
  4. Boil the potatoes.
  5. In a large heavy based pan, cook the prawns (they turn from a translucent colour to white).
  6. Add the scallops. Be very careful not to over cook,
  7. Add the cream to the vegetables and cook for a couple of minutes.
  8. Drain the potatoes and cut them in half. Arrange on a plate.
  9. Place 3 scallops on the top of 3 halved potatoes with 4 prawns.
  10. Drizzle with the sauce reduction.
  11. Drizzle the balsamic vinegar and sprinkle with chopped parsley.
  12. Optional: sea salt and cracked black pepper

Sweet, Sticky, Sour and Spicy Chicken with Mandarin Fritters

I was looking for inspiration for dinner last night and wanted to try something creative. I studied the contents of my fridge and larder and decided to make a meal that would tantalise all our taste buds – a surge of heat, a touch of sweetness combined with something sour to create a dish that would be deliciously satisfying. The Mandarin fritters added another dimension, bringing a sharp citrus crunch to the eclectic textures and flavours of the dish.

Subliminally, I had produced a meal in celebration of the Chinese New Year. It wasn’t intentional, my tastebuds just led me that way! So I wish anyone reading this a happy year of the goat! Shanyang kuaile de yi nian!


Sweet, Sticky, Sour and Spicy Chicken with Mandarin Fritters


  • 1 to 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of runny honey
  • 1/4 cup of soy sauce
  • 3 teaspoons of chopped root ginger
  • 2 teaspoons of chopped garlic
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons of hot pepper sauce (Piri-Piri)
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 4 skinless chicken breast, cut into strips
  •  tablespoons of vegetable oil
  • 2 chopped spring onions to garnish
  • 2 seedless Mandarin oranges, in segments
  • 1 cup of plain flour
  • 1/2 cup of milk
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 1/4 cup of baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • Vegetable oil for deep frying


  1. FEEDS 4:
  2. Mix together the brown sugar, honey, soy sauce, ginger, garlic and hot pepper sauce in a bowl.
  3. Salt and pepper the chicken strips.
  4. Add the chicken breast strips into the marinade and leave in the fridge for an hour.
  5. Heat the oil in a pan and add the chicken strips and brown on both sides for about a minute.
  6. Pour the sauce/marinade over the chicken and simmer uncovered until the sauce thickens (8/10 mins)
  8. Whisk together all the ingredients, in a bowl, until smooth.
  9. Heat a small pan of oil, deep enough to fry the Mandarin segments.
  10. Dip the segments into the batter then drop gently into the hot oil.
  11. Remove when golden brown and crispy.

A Monkfishy tail!

It was my suggestion – let’s have something special for dinner on Valentine’s night rather than go to a restaurant serving food at hiked up prices (I’m sorry to all restaurateurs, I used to be one myself)! So that let Peter off the hook. Ha,ha …… fish, hook!! Okay, not that funny. I hear you sigh, so I’ll get on with the tail ……..

I bought a large frozen monkfish tail from the fishmonger – it weighed about one and half kilos, so needed a day to defrost. I also bought some frozen cooked prawns – they didn’t really add anything to the taste or texture of the dish, so next time I’ll buy a few frozen uncooked tiger prawns. In hindsight, I don’t know what possessed me not to buy the real mccoy – I’ve made this dish many times and not compromised it before!

A monkfish tail weighing about a kilo will feed four people – I made far too much as usual, despite having a permanently hungry teenage boy in the house. I think monkfish is one of my favourite fish because there is no fiddling around with little bones, allowing one to be confident in getting stuck in. The meat is dense so you don’t really need copious quantities and it marries well with prawns, especially the bigger bite size ones. The added vegetables increase the flavours and textures and a dash of Moscatel wine gives a slight sweetness and depth to this deliciously velvety sauce.

It was a truly fishilicious meal and I recommend it all!!


Monkfish and Prawns in Moscatel Wine and Cream with Rice


  • A monkfish tail (a kilo would serve 4 people)
  • 400g prawns 
  • 2 leeks, chopped into rounds
  • 2 sticks of celery, finely chopped
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 sweet red pepper, chopped
  • 2 carrots, thinly sliced
  • a good ‘glug’ of Moscatel wine, or white vermouth
  • a cup of fish stock
  • salt and pepper
  • double cream
  • chopped parsley to garnish


  1. If frozen, defrost the monkfish tail.
  2. Remove the meat from the central bone.
  3. Remove the membrane and cut the meat into chunks.
  4. Set the chunks of fish on a piece of kitchen towel to absorb excess liquid.
  5. Defrost the prawns.
  6. Add 3 tablespoons (approximately) of olive oil to a pan or wok and place on the heat.
  7. Add the prepared leeks, celery, pepper, garlic and carrots to the oil.
  8. Season generously.
  9. Add the Moscatel and the fish stock and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.
  10. Add the cream and mix together.
  11. Add the monkfish and if the tiger prawns are uncooked, add them also.
  12. If using pre cooked shrimps add these for just a minute at the end.
  13. Cook until the monkfish turns from a translucent colour to white.
  14. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve with rice.

Banana and Sultana Cake

This is a very easy cake/loaf to make, using up bananas that look unappetising and are over ripe. It can also be mixed in one bowl so cuts down on mess and washing up so that is always a ‘plus’. It’s wholesome, filling, inexpensive and a great source of energy. It’s a delicious addition to a school or work lunch box.  What further incentive is needed? In my case, this weekend, two constantly hungry teenage boys who have decided, as the waves are too rough today, here in Portugal, to surf my larder!!



Banana and Sultana Loaf


  • 125g of softened butter
  • 100g of soft light brown sugar
  • half a cup of golden syrup
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 large or 3 small ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 cup of sultanas
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups of plain flour


  1. In a bowl, mash the ripe bananas
  2. Add the softened butter and mix together
  3. Add the sugar and syrup
  4. Add the salt, baking soda and vanilla – mix together
  5. Add the eggs – mix thoroughly
  6. Add the flour and combine well.
  7. Pour the mixture into a greased loaf tin.
  8. Bake at 160/170 degrees fahrenheit for 50/60 minutes.

Roast Potalic!

The naming of this dish came about, I will admit, as a result of the over imbibition of wine! There’s a word I couldn’t have said the moment I coined the recipe name!! What I meant to say, when asked what we were having for dinner was ‘roast potatoes with garlic’, but it came out as ‘potalic‘! On reflection, I think it’s a good name for the dish which oozes garlic. Not recommended the night before a hot date, your wedding or if you work as a doctor, optometrist or dentist; but a possible solution for those with agoraphobic tendencies – a serving of ‘potalic‘ the night before is sure to guarantee you a wide berth – imagine, a carriage to yourself on a packed commuter train!

It’s an incredibly easy dish to prepare using a copious amount of olive oil. I used a bulb and a half of garlic. Some cloves, I lightly crushed and cooked whole and some I chopped. You could also roast a bulb of garlic and squeeze out the pulp to add to the oil – this will give the dish yet another taste dimension as roasted garlic has a sweeter taste. So you get the gist – use loads of garlic!


Heat the oven to 200 degrees centigrade. Peel and cut the potatoes and add them to the hot oil. Cook for 10 minutes as the potatoes need a little more roasting time, then remove the tray from the oven. Add the garlic in all forms, along with a large sliced onion, carrots and a red pepper which adds colour and sweetness. Season with sea salt and ground pepper. Sweet potatoes and butternut squash would also be good additions. Cover loosely with a piece of foil to avoid singeing and reduce the temperature of the oven to 170/180 degrees centigrade. Cook until the potatoes are ready, removing the foil for the last 10 minutes to brown a little. The flavours are tantalising and the dish looks appetising. I also like it because everything goes into one pan – served with a juicy grilled steak – what could be easier or tastier. And it should guarantee you personal space on the train!

Garlic facts!

Referring to garlic, Hippocrates (the ancient Greek physician), said “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food”. He used garlic to treat a variety of medical conditions and modern science has since confirmed many of these beneficial health effects. Part of the onion family, it is high in a sulphur compound called Allicin, which is believed to bring most of the health benefits as it is rich in vitamin C, Vitamin B6 and Manganese. Garlic also helps to prevent and reduce the severity of flu and the common cold. A high dose of garlic (at least 3 cloves a day) has been proved to reduce cholesterol, high blood pressure and can be as effective as regular prescription medications. There are also academic claims that it protects against cell damage and ageing and may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. In addition, there are claims of longevity, improved physical performance and its ability to reduce toxins in the body.

It seems to me, we would be foolish not to add this to our daily diets. I will certainly be upping my family’s intake!



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