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PIGGILIOUS! A day in the Monchique mountains

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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!


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For some time now, I have been interested in the role that preparing and sharing food has played over the centuries in uniting people by providing opportunities for effective communication. We can learn a lot about other countries and their cultures through food – their methods and rituals for preparing and sharing meals. I believe that a harmonious family life often starts at the table. Taking time to prepare a meal can be an act of love or solicitude. Sharing a meal with family, friends or colleagues provides time to talk about the events of the day, school, work, worries, achievements and our relationship with others. If we learn to communicate, from an early age at home, we will communicate better at work, at school and in the wider world – if there is harmony in the home, there will be order in the nation and if there is order in the nation, there is a greater chance of peace in the world. Perhaps, some might say that I am being too simplistic or optimistic; but I reckon it’s not a bad ethos to have, or place to start, in creating a better world in which to live and bring up our children!

With this in mind, during December 2014, I was privileged to spend a few hours in the company of Aljezur International School’s Portuguese housekeeper, Dona Ilda – a vivacious lady with a wealth of stories and anecdotes to tell about Portugal’s old traditions. I asked her to talk to me about Portuguese cuisine in general and, as we were approaching the festive season, the traditional foods served at Christmas time as I wanted to write an article for my blog site. To my delight, she went a step further and suggested that, together, we prepare a typical meal to be shared with the children and staff of the school. What a treat I had in store! We set a date and then we cooked and we talked and I was enchanted by her tales of how the preparation and sharing of food was so integral to the harmony of community life, especially in poor rural regions, not only at Christmas but throughout the year.

Portuguese food is, in general, simple but flavoursome. The yields of the sea and land are plentiful and, therefore, no one has ever had to starve. Dona Ilda told us that, at the end of a hard day’s toil on the land, the workers and their families would join together (sometimes as many as fifty or sixty people), each contributing towards the meal that would be cooked communally over an open fire in large cauldron-like pots. These meals served as soups or stews, would contain a variety of regional and seasonal vegetables, chicken, pork, goat, lamb or rabbit. Fairly copious quantities of locally made wine would also accompany the meal. It was believed to invigorate the body, ward off colds, relax the mind and warm the soul! In days of very old, even the children were sent to school with a tipple of warmed red wine and a chunk of bread to help them on their journey. Christmas called for some dishes a little more special and menus, such as the one we prepared and feasted upon, would often comprise of cod fish and potato cakes, a traditional soup containing cod, a mixed meat and vegetable stew, shellfish and game, rice with black pork chorizo followed by a dessert of creamed rice made with lots of sugar, eggs and vanilla.

If we are fortunate enough to experience the traditions of another country and partake of their hostility, then we are genuinely blessed. Sharing and learning to share is so important to social development. Academic studies have shown that sharing food nurtures altruism within our society; opening the door to a more cohesive and tolerant community. Sharing food makes people think about fairness. For example – Do I get as much as everyone else at the table? Who is being served first? Sometimes, I can’t take as much as I would like to!  Perhaps, we should share meals more often, as families and communities did in days of old. Our burgeoning dependance on communication through mobile phones and social media is potentially destructive to harmonious integration within society. Most of us ‘share’ daily through social media; perhaps we could learn to communicate more effectively and share more across the table. Food for thought!

I left the school ‘family’ and Dona Ilda’s infectiously bubbly company with a warm feeling and high spirits. Aljezur International School is a truly international union of children and teachers from different countries and cultures around the world. The school instills the values of tolerance and respect which underpin harmony and an environment conducive to learning. Mobile phones are banned during the school day and the lunch break is a time for social ‘sharing’. Hallelujah! Share this joy!!


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Sweet, Smokey, Sticky Chicken

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Sweet, sharp, smokey, silky, salty – simply sensational!

This recipe is easy and quick to prepare and is guaranteed to tantalise and tease the taste buds. I have used chicken breasts, but chicken thighs or legs would work equally well – just remember to increase the cooking time for larger joints and meat on the bone.

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Cook in the oven for 10 minutes before adding the chicken breasts – it just helps to soften the onion and infuse the flavours without over cooking the chicken.

The sauce would also be delicious with pork – the ingredients can be adjusted accordingly – decrease the sugar slightly if you prefer a sharper taste or add a chopped chilli to give a little more oomph!  I sometimes add slices of red pepper for extra texture and colour.  The smoked lardons or bacon give depth and build up the complexity of flavours. Serve with plain rice – that’s all it needs!

Sticky Chicken

Prep Time: 15 Mins Cooking Time: 35 Mins Total Time: 50 Mins

Ingredients:

  • 600g chicken breasts
  • 100g smoked bacon/lardons
  • 3 tbsp of olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 100/125g soft brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 4 spring onions, chopped

Directions:

  1. In a frying pan, sauté the chicken breasts to brown a little. Set aside.
  2. In an oven proof dish place all the other ingredients, apart from the Spring onions, and mix together.
  3. Preheat the oven to 190 degrees centigrade and place the oven dish on a centre shelf. Cook for 10 minutes.
  4. Remove the dish from the oven, stir the ingredients and add the chicken breasts, basting well. Cover the dish with a piece of aluminium foil.
  5. Cook for 25 minutes.
  6. Remove from the oven and garnish with the chopped Spring onions. Serve with rice!

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Moroccan Lamb

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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.

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Chicken Breasts with Sweet Soy, Plums & Cherry Tomatoes

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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.

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Lasagne – loaded with lusciousness!!

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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.

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Portuguese Fig Jam/Chutney

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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.

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    Exotic Summer Salad!

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    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)!!
     

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    Share a piece of PEACE PIE please!

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    “Make Food, Not War!”
    I’ve been extremely disturbed by the escalating violence, intolerance and misguided self righteousness that abounds in our world today. It has effected me more profoundly than it usually does – I’m ashamed to say that I have probably become hardened to hearing that someone has shot or defiled someone else or that whole nations are caught up in international or civil war. The television news delivers daily accounts of the horrors that mankind afflicts on its neighbours with a scale and frequency that just seems to gather momentum. Why is peace such a difficult concept? I am naive regarding these matters – I suspect, but I do think that a lack of communication and education, coupled with greed and self promotion are at the root of the problem. Quite how one gets the perpetrators of violence and aggression to listen, I don’t know! The bloody war in Israel and Palestine appals me and makes my blood run cold. All lines of communication and compassion seem to have fallen on stony ground. At the weekend, I was particularly effected by the events and repercussions of another conflict, in this case, the desperate pleas of a Dutch lady interviewed on Sky television who had lost her son in the missile attack that brought MH17 to the ground killing all on board. Her anguish, torment and heart break were visibly palpable to the world. And I ached for her! How would I cope if these atrocities had enveloped my family?….. So, as I often do, when I want to think, reassess  or relax, I head off to the kitchen! I have a simple belief that prayers to your God, effective communication (which starts in the home) and ensuring that the people of all nations have enough to eat, would play a greater part in bringing about a more peaceful world for us all to share.
    I have just found an excellent site on the subject – www.foodnotbombs.net

    Seeking sanctuary, off to the kitchen I went with a glass of chilled wine (or two!), to create dinner – my very own Peace Pie which I served with some scrumptiously delicious chorizo sausages that I recently bought in Spain.

    Share a piece of Peace Pie Please!

    This is my Peace Pie!
    The holes in the pastry were ‘heart’ cut outs,
    but they didn’t quite work! I’ll make it with short crust next time.
    The pie contains olives (or did contain olives – we’ve eaten it now!),
    and the decorative olive branch was just to give it a relevant theme!
     
    Peace Pie:
    (4 people)
    1 aubergine, diced and cubed (I salted and drained it first, then washed off the excess salt)
    1 large courgette, sliced and cubed
    1 stick of celery chopped
    1 red pepper, de-seeded, sliced and diced
    3 or 4 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped (to ward off evil spirits!)
    3 large tomatoes, chopped
    A squeeze of tomato paste
    100g black olives without stones and chopped (my symbol of peace)
    50g finely chopped sun dried tomatoes 
    4 handfuls of baby leaf spinach
    a good slug of Moscatel de Setubal ( for the cooking!) – jolly nice it is too to drink, served chilled.
    Salt and Pepper
     
    For this pie, I used ready rolled puff pastry because I had some in the fridge, and truth be known, I was feeling lazy! Next time, I will make it using my own all butter short crust pastry. Well actually, it’s not my own, my great friend and pastry chef Roe, gave me her recipe and taught me a few things about making pies! Thank you Roe.
     
    Into a pan, pour about 3 or 4 table spoons of olive oil, add all the vegetables apart from the olives, aubergine and spinach. Add salt and pepper. Add the Moscatel wine (or a Sherry). Mix together well and allow to cook/simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the aubergine and spinach and olives. Continue to cook letting the juices reduce, but be careful not to over cook! Take off the heat and leave to cool.
     
    Butter a pie dish and line with the pastry. Fill with the cooled contents and cover with a pastry lid. Brush with a beaten egg and bake in the oven for 25/30 minutes at 180/190 degrees.
     
    The pie was delicious, combining ‘taste-full’ local vegetables, most of which I bought at our market in the village, with lots of garlic to ward off the evil spirits of the world and black olives to symbolise peace. Well, let’s hope and pray!
     
    And with a teenage boy in the house, I need to serve a meat dish – so, to accompany, we feasted on ………… da-dahhh…..!
     

    Spanish Chorizo (2 kinds) pan-fried in Olorosso Sherry with Black-Eye Beans, Whole and Crushed Garlic, Whole Black Olives and Freshly Chopped Basil

     

    Introducing the Stars of the Cast – Courtesy of Iberian Pigs – ‘Morcilla Negra and Salchichon Bellota’.

     
    This is one of my favourite Spanish ‘tapa’ dishes which I had on my ‘tapas’ menu in the restaurant. Served with good crusty bread to mop up the red oily juices, it’s just a little taste of heaven!
     
    As a digestive . . . . . my message from a peaceful corner of the world, is “Make Food, not War!”
     


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    Viva Espana y Viva Tapa!

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    It’s been a few days since my last blog. We have been without an internet connection. It’s tantamount to being without water! But given all the horrific events that are taking place in our world at the moment, this sounds really quite pathetic. I feel quite ashamed that I have allowed a minor inconvenience (in the grand scale of things) to irritate me so much. If I could do something to help, I really really would; but even those close to or affected directly by these appalling atrocities  have been rendered helpless. So I will keep them in my prayers and blog on . . . . .

    If you are stumbling across my blog for the first time, I live in Portugal. This is relevant because I can write to you about the wonderful weather, fabulous fish and marvellous markets etc., etc., and conversely the not-so technologically advanced communication systems! Although we are not so far from the developed coastal regions of the Algarve (where they are privy to more sophisticated technology), we are far enough inland for the signals to be more temperamental. It was my choice to live away from the madding crowds and be part of the ‘real’ Portugal, so I must bear the consequences. I’ll remind myself of that next time I feel a technology tantrum erupting! I’ll also remind myself that my cross is much lighter to bear than that of countless others in this world today.

    So, on with the intended subject ……. tantalisingly tasty ‘tapas’! 
    We are very fortunate to live not too far from the border with Spain, so impromptu trips are fun and drip feed my passion to roam. I love Spain – more precisely, I love the ‘real’ Spain – not the Spain of the Costas with over crowded beaches, lager lout bars, ugly purposes built hotel resorts and restaurants selling the very worst of British cuisine. The ‘real’ Spain is vibrant and we relish the prospect of a quick trip into Andalusia. The Spanish, I find, are quite different to other Europeans. They have a joie de vivre that I have not commonly experienced outside Spain. They love to promenade in the evenings with friends and family and they eat late. At first, I was thrown by the irregular hours they keep – afternoon siestas when most of the shops close and restaurants that don’t open until 2100 hours. Now I just adapt and go with the flow! As my son would say – just chill Mum! And, I do!

    It’s difficult to see, but the tapa dish served with our drink here,
    was delicious – prawns served with chopped tomatoes and olives in
    olive oil and herbs.

    And one of the things that I like most when we are in Spain is the copious selection of tapas dishes. Wandering from one restaurant or pavement café to another, sitting with a chilled glass of wine (or in the region of Jerez, a chilled glass of Sherry), watching the locals promenade and the world go by, while sampling small dishes of heavenly fayre. Mostly prepared from very simple ingredients, combining natural flavours indigenous to the region, the results are mouthwateringly scrumptious.

    Tapas originated in Andalusia – the word means ‘cover’. Sometimes it is given free and is served as small taster dishes. King Alfonso X, know as the wise king, decreed that no wine was to be served in any of the inns of Castile, unless accompanied by something to eat. This was a precaution  to counteract the adverse effects of alcohol on an empty stomach.

    Jamon Serrano from the region of Andalucia
    I would probably not be exaggerating to say that Jonathan has developed an addiction to the cured hams of Spain and is becoming quite discerning. In his company, we cannot order a meal without a plate of this very delicious cured ham which is produced from the Iberian black pig reared in the mountain villages. The Pata Negra (so called because of the pigs’ black hooves) is the finest and most expensive and is produced from pigs that have had a diet exclusively of acorns. A plate of this very finely carved ham, accompanied by a selection of tapas dishes, and olives with crusty white bread, is a social way to share food and provides a truly delectable feast.



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