Ghee, carob and coconut Brigadeiros

“Brigadeiro” is a sort of truffle, made with condensed milk, butter and cocoa powder. It’s a highly popular sweet in Brazil, and because of Portugal’s connection with the country, we have developed a life-long love affair with the bite-sized dessert.
You can find the original version in many pastry shops, cafés and supermarkets but you can easily make this delicacy at home.

I have posted this recipe in the Portugal Resident, but am reposting it here so I can add a few more photos you can drool over.

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This is a photo I took with a macro lense – the effect of the glass table in the background, lit by the morning sunshine, is amazing. Kudos to whoever invented low aperture, it’s like my favorite photography feature ever.

If you decide that dirtying a few dishes for the sake of some homemade goodies is a delightful option, ditch leaving the house, put your apron on and turn the stove on.

Another advantage you get by making this recipe is the fact that your imagination has no limits – choose and play with the ingredients of your preference, just like I did.

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The first part of my culinary adventure was to make Ghee – Indian version of butter and what the French designate as “clarified” butter.

Basically, the process consists in slowly heating the butter in a pan and skimming the frothy foam, with a spoon, while it gathers on the surface.This might take a while (15-25 minutes), but the result is well worth it – butterscotch scented butter, without the impurities or water, a ton of flavour, a longer shelf life and a good option for lactose intolerants.

Any leftover goes amazing in, well, almost anything you decide to cook.

Ingredients
▪ 310 grams condensed milk (uncooked)
▪ 90 grams ghee
▪ 25 grams carob flour
▪ 25 grams cocoa flour
▪ Coconut shavings (for coating)

Instructions
1. Make the ghee as instructed above. Usually, 250 grams of butter will give about 140 grams of ghee (if you skim the foam carefully during the process). Each brand of butter will have a specific percentage of waste, but if you purchase a high fat content butter, you will be able to get more ghee out of the process.

2. In a pan, combine all of the ingredients and stir on medium-low heat for about 10-14 minutes (this depends on the pan and the heat). Keep in mind to stir, almost constantly, and don’t let it burn. It will stick to the pan, so make sure you take it out as soon as it’s finished. Use a sheet of parchment paper or plastic wrap, with a bit of oil, so the mix won’t stick to this either.

3. As soon as it has cooled down enough to handle, weigh portions of about 35 grams each, roll into balls and toss in coconut shavings for a protective (yet edible) coating.

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If you want to gift someone with this edible treat, stack about five portions so they form mini cylinders, wrap in parchment paper and tie both ends with some ribbon (just like a huge piece of candy).

I used half carob and half cocoa powder because I enjoy the aromatic mix, and both ingredients actually combine very well together, without the carob becoming overpowering.

Algarvian Carrots

Here’s a vegetarian nibble, nonetheless a very Portuguese one, specific to the Algarve, the southern part of the country.

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Our tidbits, or petiscos as we call them, are a reason to mingle and an excuse to have a drink or two. Unlike the spanish tapas, which were born out of necessity, traditionally seen as a slice of bread used to cover glasses of wine to keep the flies away (I have always wondered if there is any truth in this – I would suppose that flies would be more attracted to food than to booze, but the concept does make sense as the verb tapar literally means to cover something).

The Algarve was only conquered in 1249 and considered as a separate part of the country for centuries. Given the fact that Portugal was occupied by diverse cultures for so long and is vastly known for being the main entrance to Europe, the Algarve in particular prospered into a very unique region. Boasting grand monuments like Moorish castles, places named with the “Al” prefix and special ingredients, this region is characterized by its predominant Arab influence – such as the recipe I share with you today.

In restaurants and taverns through this southern part of our country, you will find this simple marinated carrot preserve, made with cumin – one of the many ingredients that has become part of our traditional food.

I posted this recipe on the Portugal Resident a month ago, but I am now posting it on my personal blog in honor of the Rota do Petisco (the Tidbit Route), that has been going on since the beginning of September, and only has one week left. Basically it’s a route where various restaurants and food & beverage establishments have a specific petisco + beverage for only 3€ (sweet and coffe or regional liquor goes for 2€). You adquire a passport for 1€ (money goes towards social programs) that allows you to check out every participant, where it is, what you can eat and till what time the place is open. The specific areas that have been a part of this long lasting gastronomic event in the Barlavento side of the Algarve is Portimão (three areas), Alvor, Ferragudo, Mexilhoeira Grande, Silves and Monchique. Hurry up and be a part of this edible rally until de 10th of October, very well organized and set up by Teia d’Impulsos – next year, expand to Lagos please!

Now about this algarvian petisco:

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Ingredients:
– 1 kg peeled carrots
– 1 bay leaf
– 1 teaspoon caster sugar
– 3 cloves of minced garlic
– 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
– 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
– 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
– 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
– 2 tablespoons chopped parsley and cilantro
– Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Procedure:
Boil the peeled carrots for 15-20 minutes, with the bay leaf and teaspoon of sugar. They are not meant to be overcooked.

Cut the carrots into large slithers, big enough to be eaten with a toothpick.

Mix in the remaining ingredients except the cumin, which has a special technique associated with it.

By slightly heating the seeds in a non stick frying pan, they become more aromatic. Just make sure not to burn them!

Don’t throw away all of the cooked broth; keep at least half a cup for the marinated concoction and the remaining can be used for a soup or to make some tasty vitamin-rich rice.

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I also made this cheese twisted peanut pesto bread (future recipe to post), in the meantime you can check out one of my oldest posts with the peanut pesto post, special edition made with purple basil.

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For one of those lazy afternoons, I enjoyed the marinated carrots, the cheese pesto bread and some extra virgin olive oil with droplets of homemade balsamic glaze infused with orange zest and rosemary.

This is a great recipe for a nibble evening with friends, or to make a different salad.

Any leftovers? Make a tasty tuna sandwich for lunch, with this veggie as an extra filling.

Fig Cake

Fig picking is coming close to an end here in Portugal, and after a few weeks of eating way too many of them, necessity plus a little out of the box thinking just makes you cook wonderful things. Like this cake.

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fig above

Figs are a big part of Portugal, the south in particular, where you can find a peculiar sweet treat called Queijo de Figo, which literally means fig cheese. It’s like dried fig paste with a mix of nuts and condiments, condensed into a cheese format and texture. Cabrita Neto has developed some tasty concoctions with outstanding ingredients, almonds and cardamom. They even have individual bars, that you can eat as a on-the-go snack. Because, come on, who doesn’t want to eat a tasty piece of fig cheese while walking to work or on a stroll by the coast?

Considering the overflow of this fruit through our lands, plus our cute habit of stopping the car by any road side to pick, we acquired a knack of showing you guys all the ways we love to eat, breath and speak fig.

fig picking

In my home town, at the top near the castle wall close to a garden, there is at least five trees. As soon as summer hits, the fruity smell wonders through the air, and people pop by a branch ever so often to see if any figs are ripe enough to eat. After a few weeks of hot summer heat, beachside adventures and tourist drenched streets, you will find the locals around the trees, with huge poles, that have a sort of tweezer-ish character about it, so they can reach the high branches and pick the out-of-reach fruit. It’s traditionally beautiful.

Not every tree is the same. My grandmother’s tree starts mid August, my backyard trees all sort of begin in September, and a few are still not ready to eat yet.

So, about this cake: it’s a great recipe to add any sort of fruit you wish, and it keeps quite a while considering how moist it is. The lack of dairy provides a sweet treat for a huge group of special dietary people. The original recipe called for only oil, but I have combined half olive oil, so the health benefits are present, without the overwhelming flavor some might not enjoy much in sweets. What sort of olive oil should you use? I prefer to save the extra virgin for salads and bread dipping, use the virgin one for baking as flavor wise it will just combine with the remaining ingredients plus, it will also be cheaper to concoct.

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Ingredients:

  • 250 grams brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 100 ml virgin olive oil
  • 100 ml cooking oil
  • Lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 225 grams all purpose flour (whole grain for you health nuts)
  • 7 grams baking powder
  • 7 grams baking soda
  • 2 grams sea salt
  • 300 grams figs
  • 4 tablespoons Tawny Port wine
  • Drizzle of honey
  • Powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of butter (ghee for lactose intolerants)
  • 2 tablespoons milk (water for lactose intolerants)

Instructions:

  1. Roast the figs, whole, in port wine and a drizzle of honey. No need to add too much sweet, the figs speak for themselves. Let cool and save the sticky port wine syrup. This will be the base for the glaze. sem título-1079
  2. Beat the eggs sugar, oils and lemon zest for 5 minutes on medium, until a smooth paste os formed.
  3. Sift the flour, bicarb + baking powder, and add to the previous mix.
  4. Add the salt, the roasted cooled figs (cut in quarters).
  5. Place in a cake pan with parchment paper and bake at 165ºC for at least one hour.
  6. Cool the cake, remove from the pan and gently remove the parchment paper. It is suppose to look fairly rustic.
  7. Make the glaze with the roast fig + port wine syrup, softened butter/ghee, lemon zest and milk/water.glazing cake
  8. Decorate with quartered figs.  sem título-1113
  9. Eat.

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Any leftovers? Eat it for breakfast, lunch, snack, whenever. It’s just that sort of cake. Goes well with everything and everyone, if you’re wondering.

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My dog also enjoyed gazing at the cake.

Casa Vale da Lama Eco Resort – Pizza Time

In Vale da Lama there is an Eco Resort. Charm full, peaceful, plus, they have a Pizza gathering every so often Saturday through the warm summer evenings. You should call to reserve ahead of time – and make sure you don’t do it the day before, otherwise you will risk not being able to go.

Once you get there, and even if you get lost on the way (I did, at least twice), you will feel at home. Random tables, cozy benches, down to earth puffs, and several relaxed people waiting for a very delicious evening. As long as your stomach can handle as much pizza as it possibly can, you won’t ever leave this place hungry, I even had to stop eating the everlasting flow of pizza, because I just cannot leave a place without having dessert.

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So, here’s the deal: you book, you arrive, you pay the 8€ that allow you to eat as much pizza as humanely possible, you buy a drink and you are seated to whichever table was assigned to you and your company. In case of small groups, you also get to know other individuals that will be seated next to you – it’s all about sharing a space, having a few laughs, eating pizza. What else cold you possibly want to enjoy on a summer saturday evening?

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The pizzas, from what I gathered, are a mix of available ingredients: mushrooms, eggplant, onion, peppers, cucumbers, feta cheese and fresh herbs.

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Besides the comfort food, the setting, the people, the whole event is an amazing experience. Whoever is preparing the pizza’s have the best mood ever – because pizza making is fun, ain’t it? Plus, you get to make a bunch of hungry people happy. That’s awesome just by itself.

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Happy people – happy food!

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The music is also fantastic! Kudos to the DJ for sharing some good tunes. This weekend coming up you can hear some live music from Mariana Root – it starts at 9:30pm. 

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Even the Pizza People show their moves!

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Even if you are not into much socializing, and want to gaze up at the vast star printed sky, you can enjoy such an event on many of their available chairs, puffs, even hammocks. On this night, I saw a shooting star.

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The dessert: carob brownie with figs. You’re not gonna find a more traditional dessert like this one, with regional and sustainable ingredients. That’s what this place is all about – eco friendly fun and life.

Visit Vale da Lama Eco Resort event here, where you can find details for this Saturday, the 19th, and contact to make your reservation. More info on their accommodation, events, get to know them through their website here.

Mackerel & Garbanzo Bean Hummus 

Fish is a big part of our gastronomic heritage. Not only the fresh seafood available at local markets and fisherman, but one of our most characterized feature, as a country, is our preserved version of ocean goodness.

Considering our hot climate and the lack of refrigerators in the past, our ancestor’s only solution was to produce canned goods. In fact, the Algarve was vastly known for it’s intensive production. Historical facts and mouth to mouth info passed through generations of algarvian families has it that, in the beginning of our food industry activities, women used to be the ones who prepared the fish and layed each filet in a overloaded, yet organized manner in tins. They would to go to work as soon as a bell rang, and whoever arrived last would risk not being able to find a spot to work, and go home empty handed without a day’s pay. They were also searched every day’s end, as to confirm nobody was smuggling precious eggs (ovas in pt) – a delicacy and the most expensive part of the fish.

This was the way we had to use up ingredients preventing them to go bad, nor having to throw away. People used to starve and they had to adapt available resources to climate and financial conditions.

Nowadays, portuguese preserved fish is the new trend – in restaurants like Can the Can, Sol e Pesca or Pratos com Latas in Lisbon, Maria do Mar in Portimão and there is even a place in London – Tincan –  that has built it’s concept around this – you order the can of your choosing and nibble it with bread.

Putting these curiosities aside and making room for the next best innovation I have seen in quite a while, I am proud to announce that this has been going on in the Algarve (of all places in the country, it’s where few entrepreneurs are seen in action.) Hungry people, epicurieans, pt foodies – I introduce you to Saboreal – jarred preserved fish delicacies. The idea is just amazing, specially the fact that these guys aren’t joking about being unique – besides using jars and an autoclave to prepare the products, they use local fish and sustainable activities to support their business. I salute them, and so should you.

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We have a saying that is “que nem sardinha em lata” which translates to “like a sardine in a can” – this literally means it is a tight space for too many sardines (will also apply to people related circumstances). Now you can buy a jar of artesanal fish, comfortably floating fillets, reuse the vessel instead of trowing away pieces of tin, plus, acknowledge a beautiful presentation in which you can actually see what it is that you are about to eat.

Main differences that I recognized in the products? The texture of the fish is delicious, the fillets don’t shrink dramatically like the canned versions, plus you don’t have to dirty any Tupperware’s in storing away any leftovers – you just screw the lid back on!

I have a series of their products I will test and share with you during the following months – this is take one.

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Besides the fish fillets, they also have a mix of ingredients, like a rustic paté you can just spread on bread and/or cracker. Or just eat it directly out of the jar, like myself.

So I used Cavala – which according to google translation is mackerel – but in my opinion it has always been horse mackerel (because cavala is feminine for horse – makes sense right?). Anyway, I have researched this so many times that horse mackerel seems to be carapau – a fish from the mackerel family. A bit confusing hey? I am not the best with translations, but I do try (at least google it). If anybody has more accurate information about this, please share in the comment section below!

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Ingredients:

  • 1 can of garbanzo beans
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • Sea salt to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 jar of Saboreal Preserved Mackerel (olive oil included)
  • Green roasted peppers
  • Sun dried tomatoes
  • Fresh cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

Instructions:

  1. Drain the garbanzo beans and marinate them with salt, pepper, paprika, minced garlic, olive oil that has been used to preserve the fish (use it for it’s flavor, no need to use untainted olive oil, and surely no need to waste the jared one away) and baking soda for at least one hour. If you would like to do this overnight – even best. The baking soda is meant to help break down the beans which results in an even smoother puré.
  2. Puré the garbanzo beans (save 3 tablespoons of intact beans for texture and presentation purposes) in a blender until smooth. Be sure to add at least 5 tablespoons of the remaining fishy olive oil so it becomes extra smooth and flavorful.
  3. Plate the hummus in a bowl, top with the intact garbanzo beans, roasted peppers, deboned and separated filets of mackerel and a squeeze of lemon juice. Decorate with some “sun” dried tomatoes, fresh cilantro and more olive oil to shine it up!
  4. Cut some slices of bread (I went healthy this day and bought a malt seed rich loaf at the local german bakery).       sem título-500
  5. Eat, dip and nibble til your heart is content.

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Healthy nosh with the right sort of carbohydrates, the best proteins and plenty of healthy fat from the olive oil and juicy fish.

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Bom petisco!

Alqueva Part 2 – The Food

I am not a travel writer, I am a cook and a food enthusiast. Nevertheless, I think I might start sharing my adventures around a few places, but I assure you it will always include food. If I’ve never been down this road before it’s because of:

A) Up till last year I was a mear culinary student (students don’t usually have much resources to travel – well, me at least).

B) Being from the Algarve, my only time off (summer) was spent working.

C) Surely, through any spare time I could find, I would cook and photograph and plan how to write a blog.

Anyhow, a year has passed, I gained (some) professional experience, saved up (some) money and decided to, instead of enrolling into a masters degree or something that would pin me down (financially and geographically), take interesting short-term courses to enrich my mind, body and soul (oh, and don’t forget, my belly) – I will surely post these whenever I start my adventures through wherever I go. You will find out soon enough! For now, here goes take 1.

This year, my parents were so kind I was actually invited to go on a four day trip to Alqueva. Check out my intro, aka Part 1 – The Trip!

I was bewildered (because they usually travel without the kid) yet grateful for the opportunity. Grabbed my bikini, Anthony Bourdain’s – A Cook’s Tour, my camera and hasta la vista world, here goes Mel to enjoy some silence, on a boat, in Alentejo.

I blame my mother for getting me into this post in the first place (in a good way obviously): besides introducing me to great travel writer such as Bill Bryson and handy Lonely Planet books, I think she knew I knew I had what it took to write an interesting point of view about our adventures on a boat through this unique place in Portugal. Heck, the world! She is also the best travel planner I have ever known. She does it at least twice a year and already has a first-name basis relationship with international airports and airlines (just kidding – but, if this were true, I wouldn’t be the least surprised).

Before you start mouthwatering on the other side of the screen, let me give you some basic info you might find useful:

  1. Amieira Marina is where you rent the boat. They provide a map, a big one. If you lose it, there is one stapled to the inside of the boat. Plus, GPS system is easy to get used to. Big big plus side? You don’t even need a boat license! You get a two hour tops lesson on how to drive it, float it right and, eventually, not sink it.                                            IMG_6923
  2. They provide elevator trolleys so you don’t have to carry heavy baggage. Yes, this means take as much food and booze as you possibly can.
  3. Kitchen completely equipped – even a BBQ you can set up! Stove and oven are gas run. Portable water and separate dam water taps (non consumable). Good sized fridge and regular freezer, plenty of cute plates and bowls, tea towels and table cloths, complementary basket with an Alentejano bread loaf and cured goat cheese. Now this is quality of life people! The only thing I could complain about was the amount of time the fridge took to cool my drinks (very hot, can’t blame floating technology) and the lack of sharp knives. I suppose my cooker self should have anticipated such a fact. Now I know never to travel without my kit again.
  4. PET FRIENDLY! Yes, for a small fee of 40€ you can take your dog. Make sure you buy a float jacket ahead of time and spend your peaceful moments teaching him how to fetch the tennis ball into the vast waters. Just tell him it’s a big pool – it worked for us!

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So, as you can imagine, I was the private chef on the boat! I basically cooked and served whatever my dear mother thought we needed most. I can assure you, we could of survived another week, easily and comfortably, without starving. Here you have it:

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Petisco lunch: veggies from our farm (cherry tomato, cucumber, green pepper, onion and cilantro with a balsamic + red wine vinegar combination), assorted deli such as Presunto, honey roasted ham, Queijo de Azeitão, healthy seedy crackers, bread, tinned preserved fish and, of course, beer! A 15 minute gathering of ingredients so we could make the best of our first day, with little hassle.

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Do you like my smoked mackerel cracker bruschetta?

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Waking up to this? Could get used to it, easily.

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Breakfast with a view! Eggs, cheese, portuguese bread and butter. Some preserved asparagus – ovinhos com espargos is a very traditional Alentejano tidbit.

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Stopped in Campinho on our second day where we found a park with tables, benches and embedded BBQ’s through the so called park. Plenty of friendly families who shared their burning coals so we could make a grilled veggie salad and some chicken breast marinated with pimentão doce (paprika), bay leaf, olive oil, salt, pepper and white wine.

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Once we arrived at Monsaraz, so much art and unique features. First of all, if you want to go here, talk to Amieira Marina. They know a guy who knows a guy that owns a B&B who will gladly pick you up at the nautical club (where you will have to park your boat) in his private car so you can have a nice meal, a stroll and will even take you back. For half the price that a regular taxi would charge, this is the best solution as taxi’s will usually come from far away and will rip you off with a 60€ trip (even if it’s 20 min back and forth).

Dinner at Templários Restaurant:

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Charcuterie plate with top notch cured pork.
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Cabrito assado com batatas – young goat roasted in the oven till tender, with likewise accompanied potatoes.

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Octopus with olive oil and cilantro.

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Back in Aldeia da Luz, our final day. This town was completely rebuilt somewhere else – they even moved the cemetery and respective carcases. Otherwise, the town council wouldn’t have agreed with the move. Check out their museum for some historical facts.

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Traditional Bakery Sign. Got there just in time (before 1pm as it shuts for lunch till 3pm) to buy a loaf and some almond and egg cream pastries.

Translation: The bakery belonged to the parents of the current owner, who still baked bread in a traditional brick oven. When he inherited the bakery, he continued to bake bread in the traditional way, only ceasing to do so when the family moved to the new village. Here you can find regional Alentejo bread and cakes. The bakery owners are Albertina and Manuel Godinho.

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Alentejano excursionists arguing what they were going to have for lunch. Out of both options shared through what seemed to me loud roars of hangry (for more info about this human state, click here) they stood for at least 10 minutes discussing the pros and cons of choosing:

  •  carne de alguidar: when we make chouriço, we put everything in a bucket, season it well with salt, pepper, vinegar, olive oil, bay leaf and paprika, but instead of stuffing the chouriço we can also make a meal out of it. It actually goes by the name of bucket meat.
  • Churrasco – our grilled meat, you can call it our barbecue but without the american sauce. Simple is best with a tad of lemon juice topped after being grilled, to cut the strong flavor of the fat and smoke drenched meat.

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Our last evening on the boat.

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Preparing some roast veggie salad and local chouriço to put on the grill for our last floating meal.

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Once back home, I couldn’t help myself by making a friendly petisco with my edible souvenirs. I brought three cheeses:

Cured sheep milk cheese – Sapata from Reguengos de Monsaraz

Cured sheep milk cheese – Lactobelavista from Rio dos Moinhos

Mixed sheep and cow milk cheese – Belqueijo from Nisa

I also brought back a black pig chouriço. Let’s just say it was too damn yummi, it didn’t survive before the photoshoot.

All in all – one of the best trips ever. Four days isn’t enough to cover the amount of territory you can explore. The people, the food, the peace and quiet, the warm still waters and the everlasting floating. After two days, I would step on land and feel like I hadn’t stopped floating – this is normal and a pretty cool thing to experience!

Alqueva Part 1 – The Trip!

My very first “alentejano” experience was twenty years ago – I was a mear four year old waking up to the godawful sound of a pig being murdered. I hated every bit of it: the sqwelling, the blood, the smell of burnt hair, the guts held in buckets through the hallway floors. The years passed by and I learned to appreciate it. After all, it always ended up in a fiest (literally speaking).
Returning to Alentejo brought back those memories, and while I read Anthony’s experience, I couldn’t help but laugh and be thankful that my nanny dragged me along during her weekend visits to Odemira. Childhood trauma apart, it just made me become a little more portuguese than I already was about to become. This time, I didn’t see swine torture, but I was introduced to something much more mind blowing about this part of the country.
Just to get you started, Alentejo in the summer is known for it’s hotness, the umberable kind that will make you want to look for shade and never think about sun bathing again. It is just that hot. After being in the Algarve for most of my life, being hot never seemed to be a problem – you have the sea, the fresh breeze, the not so hot heat. In the countryside you won’t find salted water, maybe a river now and then. But now Alqueva has Europe’s biggest artificial lake. For more info about historical facts and why the dam was constructed, consult wikipedia’s wise knowledge here.
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The most peaceful sunset I have seen in all my existence.
So this was the trip – renting a boat, sailing what once was vast pastured land. The most peaceful experience I have ever had since I could remember. Ghostly territory, non urbunized islands, stranded trees, slightly sloped bays and plenty of still waters.
This was such a cool idea, I just have to tell the world about it and recommend it to everyone.
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Getting to know small villages, local living, plus, far away from busy civilization and mass tourism confusion – this is what this trip was all about. This one is Estrela – no restaurants, one simple café and you can’t find packaged orange juice anywhere. When I asked what this was all about, while I had been shopping for it because my mother needs it more than she needs coffee in the morning, a lady simply answered “If we want orange juice, we will squeeze oranges”. True wise words, natural is best!
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Monsaraz view from this quaint B&B. Amazing and unusual town – I highly recommend visiting this unique spot.
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Aldeia da Luz scenario – One of the villages that had to be reconstructed because of the increase in water altitude.
While we were wondering the hot and haunted roads of this recent location, we found a table to sit down and have a refreshing mini (a small sized beer – 25cl to be precise). Checking out the inside of the so resembled tavern, I realized that for snacks, men were standing around the counter, with peeled boiled potatoes, some slices of fresh tomato, a few peanuts and each one of them had their own pocket knife to nibble. Wow, I need to get one myself! Astonished yet lights flickered in my mind as I started to understand what Alentejo’s lifestyle is all about – simplicity, at best, and humble practices gained by generations of getting by with whatever was available.
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When my dog found a stray goat, and followed him just to watch.
Next – Part 2 – The Food!

Honey Lemon Curd Muffins

You know that saying, ‘if life gives you lemons, make lemonade? Or throw them at someone’s head?’ Well, I’ve decided to make something sweet instead.
This recipe was my solution to use up lemons that were falling desperately off the tree.

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|| Muffin batter
Ingredients
2 eggs
105 grams salted butter
80 grams brown sugar
50 grams honey
200 grams all-purpose flour
60g soy milk (lactose intolerant option)
Zest from 1 lemon, plus 1/2 tsp of lemon juice
8 grams baking powder
1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Procedure
Make sure butter is kept at room temperature, and beat for at least two minutes on medium speed until smooth. Keep beating while adding the honey and sugar. Add the lemon zest and vanilla paste until combined. Beat in one egg at a time, making sure you incorporate well before adding the other egg.

Sift the flour with the baking powder beforehand; add into the butter mix along with the liquids (soy milk and lemon juice).

Let the batter set for at least an hour before cooking; this helps the flour to absorb the liquid, which makes the dough become very moist.

Fill greased muffin pan or individuals up to 3/4. Preheat the oven to 165ºC and bake for 25-30 minutes.

|| Lemon curd
(Bimby’s recipe – our favorite kitchen gadjet – it’s better than a Kitchenaid – no, seriously)
Ingredients:
160 grams caster sugar
2 eggs
60 grams salted butter
2 lemons (zest and juice)

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Procedure:
Melt the sugar with the lemon juice on low heat – don’t let it boil. Stir the syrup into previously beaten eggs and continue to mix while slowly incorporating it. Cook again on low heat, always stirring. You will recognise it’s done when a dipped spoon becomes drenched with thickened curd. Off the heated stove, add the butter and let it melt slowly.

Scientifically, eggs start to coagulate around 60°C; a bit higher they will curdle and separate. The key is a low temperature, plenty of stirring, without overcooking. Plus don’t forget to stir. If a very silky smooth texture is desired, pulsing it in a blender will do the trick.

Cut out a hole in the baked muffins and fill with the curd, sprinkle with powdered sugar or dress up with fresh thyme.

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Any leftover lemon curd? Mix it with plain yoghurt and muesli. Use it as a pancake topping, a simple spread for toast or combine with salty cheese for a sweet tangy contrast.

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Plum Crumble

Seasonal fruit, seasonal desserts. When you have too many plums ready to pop off the tree, you have to do something about it. Crumble is, and always has been, my answer to this problem.

My mother taught me well, she is and has always been my kitchen guru, the one who creates delicious goodies with whatever the farm provides. I blame her for my sweet tooth and my adorable habit to eat crumble for breakfast.

Whether it’s for dessert, a snack to keep your sweet cravings happy or a quick breakfast to get a good head start of a busy day – this is ideal!

Because it is such a versatile dessert, an easy solution for the overflow of fruit, specially if you need to kick off that guilty feeling of not eating up vitamin and fiber rich goodness.

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 I´m obsessed with these cute ramekins.
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Ingredients:
Plums
155 grams brown sugar
245 grams whole grain oats
100 grams all purpose flour
105 grams macadamia nuts
190 grams butter
Vanilla
Lemon zest
Procedure: Cut the plums in quarters, discard the seeds. If you like a bittersweet dessert, be lazy about it and keep the skin on! Don’t forget, besides being healthier, you are also being kind to the environment by not wasting nutritionally valid pieces of food.
Choose the amount of fruit you think might be reasonable for your crumble. It’s all about improvising, and getting used to being the boss in the kitchen. If you do however need a reference, I usually add more fruit than actual crumble, as this tends to bake, release moisture and inevitably shrink.
Now, for the crumble, coarsely grind the macadamia nuts, mix in remaining dry ingredients plus vanilla extract and lemon zest. With the tips of your fingers, incorporate the butter till it turns flaky. Beware, do not mix it too much as it will turn into a cookie dough rather than a crumble itself.
Plate in individual ramekins or just use a big dish if you don’t feel like fafing about with washing too many dishes afterwards.
Bake at 185ºC until the crumble is golden and you can see the fruit bubbling on the side of the dish. It should look purple and yummy.
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Serve with cozy warm custard on a fresh evening or accompany with sugar free cold yoghurt for a hot summer morning.
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Eggs, meet a cozy piece of toast

Hello foodie readers! Long time that I haven’t written anything, but for a good reason. I have been a very busy bird lately, and it seems to be that the universe has been on my side, so I have been dazzled with opportunities to prosper and grow in the food industry. Anyhow, I am back, and will be able to post photos and recipes of my foodie adventures so far so you can droll a little on the other side of the screen.

Today I share with you a recipe I have posted on an online magazine called the Portugal Resident. Every now and then you can also purchase the printed version – the Algarve Resident – everything you need to know about the Algarve (south of Portugal) if you are a foreigner to the language. Check out the original post here.

For the most important meal of the day, why not forget the skillet and turn on the oven instead?

Some out-of-the-box thinking and this is what I came up with. All you need is a muffin pan or individual tin cups, plus the following ingredients:
▪ Eggs
▪ Slices of bread (whole wheat for a healthier version)
▪ Cheese (I used Caprino de Odemira, a delightful goat cheese from the Alentejo)
▪ Something green (fresh rocket or spinach)
Presunto – our smoked ham (smoked turkey also goes very well)
▪ Salt and pepper to taste

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To assemble everything, follow these steps:
1. With a rolling pin, thin the bread slices. Grease the muffin pan and line with the bread (you can cut and fit to adjust), according to the number of servings you wish to bake.
2. In a previously heated oven (180°C), pop in the muffin pan to slightly toast the bread before stuffing with the remaining ingredients. This will prevent the bread from becoming soggy and gives structure to each individual serving.
3. After about five minutes, remove the muffin pan and stuff with greens, ham and cheese.
4. Add one egg into each muffin, season with salt and pepper. Bake for another two minutes and turn the oven off; the eggs will finish off by themselves. If you like runny eggs, bake no more than six minutes.
5. Remove from the muffin pan or individual cups. For a ‘wow’ factor, cut in half and watch the egg yolk ooze out in style.

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This is a great idea to have fun in the kitchen, especially with kids – it’s also an amusing way to play with ingredients (or to persuade anyone to eat greens in the morning).

Any leftovers? Store in the fridge for a grab-and-go breakfast the next day.