Green Wine, Bacalhau and Heart Attack in the Making !

We have been travelling in Portugal this last week and started off in Porto, somewhere new to us. Porto is in the north of the country on the Douro river and the home of Port.IMG_1656

One might wonder, how come that nearly all of the brands of Ports have British names? Well, back then the Brits were every where, but were in the early 1700’s at war again with France, which meant that society could not get their supply of French wine, which led them to discover that this really rather nice drink called Port was equally acceptable. The British were always more friendly with the Portuguese  than with the French ( both disliked the French, which could be the reason). Consequently, most of the best known brands of Ports are British, such as, Broadbent, Cockburn, Croft, Dow, Graham, Osborne, Sandeman, Taylor and Warre being amongst the best known. Under European Union Protected Designation of Origin  (PDO )guidelines, only the product from Portugal may be labelled as Port (  french  appellation contrôlée for Champagne etc). The Portuguese wine region is the third oldest in the world, behind Chianti and Tokaj ( Hungary).

During the 1700’s as port became increasingly popular in England, the landed gentry would retire after dinner, to drink their Port, whilst the ladies did ( what I don’t know, gossiped or titivated themselves), William Pitt the younger apparently started drinking a bottle of port a day to combat his gout ( port actually exacerbates it)!

Porto is a very old city, much of which is in a state of disrepair.This could be because, the city  ( and country) was until about 18 years ago, in the grip of a drug problem. It was a huge problem and  HIV was the highest in the EU. The government took the radical step and decriminalised drug taking and that was a start towards recovery, for the nation. And so it was in Porto, people had moved out of the city and left it to the drug dealers, hence buildings were neglected. However, today, Rua das Flores in the centre of Porto has undergone renovation ( still ongoing) and is a bustling historic street.


We did another Food tour of the city which I booked through a web site called ” Get Your Guide” which seems to work in many major cities World Wide. I booked online and was told where to meet our guide, who would be wearing Orange. Perfect, we met Thiago (James), outside a small cafe in Rua das Flores which was our first port of call. Here we had our first taste of green wine  Vinho Verde, but green here equals young wine and not green in colour. With our glass of wine we ate Alheira sausages. These can be made with pork, chicken, veal, duck, quail or rabbit. Probably of Jewish origin and served as a bit of a mush of sausage and bread. But very tasty. Moving on down the street,  we stopped at another small cafe to try flamed Chorizo and a glass of Rosé Vinho Verde. Most of us would have had at sometime or another Mateus Rosé, and Rosé Vinho Verde is NOT Mateus Rosé. We then moved on to a larger restaurant which was very busy, ( we had reservations, thank you Thiago) and here we drank beer and ate Bifanas, which is another typical Portuguese dish which consists of Pulled pork in a bread roll with either the cooking juices poured on, or some home made Piri-Piri sauce.

Our last stop was in a real restaurant where we ate cream of pea soup, Chilli Cod followed by Chocolate mousse and a glass of Port. An interesting fact is that during the dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar , 1932-1974, if anyone was a fisherman and fished for Cod, then they were exempt form Military service !

And of course we ate the famous Pastel de Nata!

One dish which we did not try in Porto was Francesinha. Basically a Portuguese version of Croque Madame. It is made with two slices of Bread, two types of sausage, maybe some steak or roast pork, some slices of ham, a fried egg, cheese sauce and a tomato and beer sauce to top it and the whole lot is served with French Fries! A heart Attack waiting to happen ! Apparently the real secret is in the tomato beer sauce, the recipe not to be divulged. Each little cafe has its own special ingredient and some will even sell the sauce to take away. I have tried recreating it at home, and of course it it is not difficult, but maybe someone from Porto, would not find it authentic enough!

On my obligatory visit to the market, we bought some salt cod, ( vacuum packed to bring home). Bacalhau is Portuguese for Cod, and is nearly always salted. We also ate a lot of Octopus whilst in Porto as well as when we decamped to the Lisbon area. The Portuguese grow a lot of rice and this is apparent when dining as many dishes on a menu are with oven baked rice. Our favourite Octopus dish was one we had in a beach side restaurant in Caiscais. Here himself ordered grilled Octopus and when it came, talk about Food Envy!! I had the grilled squid which was delicious but the Octopus Well !!!

Nest time, Ovos Moles de Aveiro and Bacalhau croquettes and fritters !

P.S Vinho Verde and Portuguese red wine can be bought at Majestic wines, but also from, significantly cheaper, even with delivery. We are awaiting our first order !


Cake Mixes, Pie Mixes and Custard

Growing up, my Mum, cooked. She cooked every day, and on Sundays she really did cook, she cooked and baked more or less the whole day. She was no different from all the other Mums, that I knew. It is what Mums did. Did she like cooking? Actually, I have no idea. She was fairly creative, especially at Christmas, when she would spend weeks making very fancy cakes, all shapes and sizes. She certainly would have knocked spots off, of Lolas Cup Cakes. But, on a daily basis, well, she was not of Monday it is cold meat Tuesday  shepherds pie, ilk, but she did overcook cabbage ( yuck the smell of overcooked cabbage).

My Aunt, ( Mums younger sister) loved to cook, but in the same mode as Mum, but I assume that , that was the way it was in Post War Britain, the luxury of having fresh foods after years of deprivation.

So on Sundays, we often had for dessert, Lemon Meringue Pie, and for years ( until I went to college) I assumed that Lemon Meringue pie could only be made with a packet mix! And even today, I am sure that many people still use a packet mix, because it is still available ( Tesco ( 45p) Sainsbury ( 50p) but not in Waitrose or Asda.)Screenshot 2019-05-05 at 18.29.58

Which brings me on to Pie and cake mixes in general. Other products that I assumed were always made using a packet, were gravy ( Bisto), I hated gravy, and Custard ( Birds custard powder) I hated custard. And cake mixes, I have to admit that my Mum, NEVER used a cake mix, she always made them from scratch, even way before she had any kind of mixer, she would cream the butter and sugar, by hand etc. etc.

The history of these products is interesting.  Alfred Bird developed this product apparently because his wife was allergic to eggs in 1837. He formed the company and diversified into baking powder, blancmange, jelly powder and other egg substitutes. The custard was so popular that it was given to troops during WW 1. The company was bought after the second world war by the American giant  general Foods, which was then bought by Philip Morris then onto Kraft foods and then that bit was sold to Premier foods and today it is just part of a larger company, just keeping the brand name.

Cake mixes were developed in the USA, in the 1920’s. In the 1950’s both General Mills and Pillsburys were trying to market their cake mixes with only a modicum of success. For the average stay at home American housewife, her cakes needed to be perfect, but the cake mixes did not quite reach that standard. They contained powdered egg and tasted as such. Then along came Ernest Dichter, an American Psychologist and one of the first  to apply to advertising a really scientific psychology.  His work was central to the development of the idea of brand image. For example he worked with Exxon/Mobil and came up with the idea of ” Put a tiger in your tank”. So thanks to Ernest, cake mixes became foolproof ( well almost) by simply excluding the egg powder and saying on the packet “Add An Egg”. And that was it, the birth or rebirth of the cake mix. Today in British supermarkets there are numerous types of cake mixes., Waitrose has a mere 28, whereas Asda, 57, Sainsbury 62 and Tesco 65!!IMG_0519

On to Custard Lemon flavoured, or Crème Anglaise ( as the French call it).

  1. 12 ml Fresh cream
  2. 75 grms caster sugar
  3. juice from a lemon
  4. 3 egg yolks

As I am basically a bit of a lazy cook, I tend to make this with the help of a food processor and a microwave.But failing that an egg whisk and a  saucepan will suffice.

Beat the egg yolks with the 1/2 of the sugar until it is think and pale in colour. Boil the cream and the rest of the sugar and the lemon juice together and pour it over the eggs stirring or whisking all the time. Return to the pan and and cook gently until the mixture thickens, and I say gently, DO NOT LET the mixture boil as it will curdle. This is the part that I resort to the Microwave. I would have boiled the cream etc in the Microwave , mixed together as above and then return to the Microwave and on high in one minute bursts, I heat and stir.

If by any chance it does curdle, then pass through a sieve. When thickened, cover with cling film touching the surface, this will prevent any skin forming. The sauce can be served hot or cold. If too thick when re-heated it can be diluted with some more cream.