Bacalhau ( Salt Cod, to you and me)

I think I am correct in saying that to the average English man, the word Salt Cod, is not something that we would relish and I have to admit that until our very recent trip to Portugal, I had not eaten it nor even tried it, almost to the point of avoiding it. Even Himself who prides himself on trying everything that is different on a menu, had not even tried it.

And so it was, when we visited the market in Porto, which had been held in a wonderful Neo Classical Building in the city centre since 1914. However, unfortunately on our visit, the merchants had been rehoused in the basement of a shopping centre nearby, as the building was in a deplorable state. The mayor of Porto had the idea of simply demolishing the structure, but such an outcry ensued that plans were changed to basically renovating but with such a major undertaking, it was necessary to move everyone out. Shame for us as the basement of a shopping centre just didn’t hack it for me ( lover of markets)!

However, there were several vendors, selling Salt Cod. What I hadn’t appreciated was that there are different qualities of Salt Cod, and why not, but it had never crossed my mind. Often, it is yellow (a sign of progressing rancidity) or excessively dry and thin. Look for the thickest filets as these are by far the best. The vendor told me exactly what to do to reconstitute the fish and then vacuum packed it for me.

Packed in my suitcase and ready for London.

Once home I set to, to create my Salt Cod dish. Salt cod croquettes.

First it is necessary to soak the fish in water, in the refrigerator for 4 days, changing the water daily. Drain and pat dry, transfer the fish to a baking tray, and place skin side down, lightly sprinkle some olive oil over the top and bake at 200C/Gas6 for about 10 minutes. Remove and allow to cool.

Remove the skin and then flake the fish, being sure to remove any bones.

Using equal quantities of potatoes, boil and mash them, add some chopped chives or spring onions along with some lemon zest and Salt! Yes, Salt, even as it is preserved in salt, the salt has been washed out in the soaking and so it is important to add seasoning, otherwise it will be very bland!

Refrigerate for an hour or so and then roll out into a long sausage. If it is done on cling film, easy to do and not much mess. Cut into sausage lengths, beat and egg, and dip the croquettes first in the egg wash and then into dry breadcrumbs. I prefer Panko crumbs (Japanese) but sometimes they are just a bit too chunky.

Heat some oil in a frying pan and when hot fry the croquettes turning so all sides become brown.

Serve with a salad and preferably a remouldade sauce or just lemon wedges and a vinaigrette.

Also on our Portugal trip we came across in the town of Aveiro, “Ovos Moles de Aveiro”. These sweets were created in 1502 by Nuns ( who else) and they are on the outside, Rice paper and a mixture of eggs and sugar on the inside. And they do look like eggs! They were awarded in 2008 the EU Protection of Origin. The first Portuguese bakery to be so honoured!

To be honest, I tried one, himself had a nibble, way too sweet. And as for Aveiro, a cute town, impossible parking and full to overflowing with Tourists. It is called the Venice of Portugal, with its canals, and boats, cute and busy, we didn’t linger.

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 portugalvineyards.com, 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.

Dai Tai Fung ( Mark Two) and do slurp your food !

I’m sure like me, your mother, said things like” Sit up straight, use your knife and fork AND Don’t slurp!” However, I’m sure that in many Asian countries, that this is not the case, no knife and fork ( only chop sticks or fingers) and slurping is the only way to eat your slippery noodles!

Going on from my previous Blog, we were at a loose end on Saturday night and so ventured into Covent Garden, a quick couple of stops on the tube or bus. A visit to the London version of Din Tai Fung was called for.

We found it easily enough a short walk from Rules ( London’s oldest restaurant) near the Covent Garden Piazza. There were a few people waiting outside, but the booking process is easy ( there isn’t one) but give your name to the hostess ( she who is wrapped in layers of clothing standing outside), she will take your name and mobile number, inform you of the approximate wait, and she will text when the table is ready! Therefore, one can decamp to a local bar OR just go inside to their bar! London is only the 2nd Din Tai Fung that has a bar and according to Himself the prices were very reasonable ( much more so than in any of the surrounding theatres)!

So, we sat in the bar area, where could half see part of the kitchen and all of the comings and goings, a great people watching place ! Before we had finished our glass of wine we were being summoned, Table was ready.

The interior of the London Din Tai Fung, was slightly less functional or cafeteria style than the Hong Kong branch but the general idea was the same. A pictorial menu, a menu ordering sheet complete with pen and a drinks menu. The wait staff who were very efficient, were on the whole, Asian but not necessarily Chinese.

Time out in Hong Kong

It had been many years since I was last in Hong Kong, 20, to be precise, and although I love the hustle and bustle, not sure if I could live here, just too many people. Over 7 million, almost twice as many who live in the whole of New Zealand.IMG_1488

Himself and I were here as part of our Far East trip, using it more or less as a base, to go to Mission Hills, China, ( for golf) and then onto Vietnam and Cambodia and used the hotel as storage for golf clubs. Our dining experience, hotel wise ( it was close to the airport, as lugging golf clubs around was something to be avoided) was pretty much a disaster, under cooked chicken as well as an interminable wait for it. But Hey Ho, in Hong Kong one is truly spoilt for choice and as such we only ventured into the  hotel restaurant  once, and that was only because we were a bit late to eat elsewhere. It seems that Hong Kongers eat early !

So the hotel options should be quickly forgotten as the rest was excellent.

There is in Hong Kong a Branch of  Din Tai Fung. Din Tai Fung, is to be found in London, New York, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Australia, Malaysia and China and of course the original , Taiwan ( Taipei). The company was founded as a cooking oil company in 1958, but diversified in 1972 as a dumpling and noodle restaurant, and today the Hong Kong branch, which is basically a cafeteria has a Michelin Star.

 

I think we went to the Taipei version back in  1995, but can’t be sure, but I have now been to the Hong Kong branch twice, and this the second visit with himself and was not disappointed. ( I did warn him, that I was taking him to a Michelin Starred cafeteria, he was dubious!) However, I have to try the London branch which is to be found in Covent Garden. Both Giles Coren and Tom Parker Bowles (renowned food critics) are both smitten.

Unfortunately, there are no reservations, so be prepared to queue, or they will give you a queueing time update if you give them a call. But I can assure you the wait is worthwhile.

For our Hong Kong visit, we did not have to wait, as we were early, having a pre late night , 12 hour flight dinner. Just as on my previous visit, we walked past the kitchen where all were gainfully employed and in harmony. There did not seem to be any shouting or histrionics ( à la Gordon Ramsey).

We were seated quickly and given a table number and a menu. We then had to give the waitress our order, which was also in number form, rather than saying the name of the dish, and with that she disappeared before re-appearing with a pot of Chinese tea.

There is no order to how and when the food arrives, as it is all cooked to order, and it depends on the preparation/cooking time as to when it is served.

We ordered,

  1. Beans with Pork
  2. Spicy Peppered Pork
  3. Saucy Noodles with peanut sauce, Taiwan Style
  4. Dumplings with Beans and Pork
  5. Dumplings with Shrimps

So all that remains is for me to head on down to China town, ( or to Hoo Hing at Hanger Lane, West London) to buy supplies or maybe even better go to Covent Garden and try out the London version of this Iconic restaurant chain!!

Indian Accents, and not a curry in sight!

Once upon a time Himself had a favourite restaurant, the only trouble was it, was in New Delhi. Not exactly a round the corner. But help was at hand as eldest daughter lived in New Delhi, which is exactly how we came to love Indian Accents.

It was located in a hotel called the Lhodi in a suburb of New Delhi. I hesitate to call it a smart suburb, as Delhi has smart suburbs surrounded by squalor and homelessness and in the midst of all of this chaos is Indian Accents, an oasis of calm. Consequently for several years on each of our visits this was a treat to which we looked forward to . And now there is an out post, well two actually, one in New York and one in London. And so it was recently that we ventured forth with some friends to see if it lived up to the Indian Accents of our memories .

And it did! Our friends, being of the outward going types, took it upon themselves to inform the restaurant that we were VIP’s of a sort and were hopping for the same standards of food and service that we had come to expect in New Delhi. And they lived up to expectations, both in food and service.

We all opted for the tasting menu ( there goes the diet for another week)!

We declined the wine pairings however, but to give rough translation of the menu is as follows.

5 waters, we were told to eat/ drink these in the correct order, from right to left. We think they were tamarind, mint, pumpkin, coconut sherbet, pineapple with maybe allspice and ginger, but whatever they were, they were delicious. I think I might write that word several times.

These were followed by tandoori salmon and chicken in a cornet along with pork ribs

The service was exemplary throughout and our dining experience made our taste buds think again, as to what were we’re eating.

After our 5 waters, spicy drink/soup, tandoori salmon, chicken in a cornet and pork ribs, we were treated to an Indian version of Trous Normande ( a Norman hole, which is a sorbet made with calvados). This was Anaar Chuski translated roughly as Pomegranate sorbet!

It was then that we had a choice, the boys chose the lamb chops and the girls the sea bass. In hindsight the lamb chops were by far the better choice, the sea bass was absolutely fine BUT the lamb chops were outstanding! Next time I will definitely have those. Both of these were served with ( I think) blue cheese Naan, black dal and a raita.

And so onto dessert, to be honest I’m not a big dessert fan and even less so Indian and Never Middle Eastern ! But I have to say, I did eat this dessert and enjoyed it!

After all what can be wrong with a treacle tart and ice cream ? Does it live up to our hype? Yes! Will we go back? Yes and Yes again ! Can’t wait!

Orrery (a clockwork model of the solar system)

This week saw us dining in The Orrery, at the top end of Marylebone High Street, London, with an old friend who was in town for a few days. Himself and said friend had eaten there previously, albeit for lunch and being rather lazy we could walk there.

Our friend had already been seated, when we arrived, but I declined to join him on what appeared to be an over stuffed, bouncy sofa, but chose a chair opposite instead ( much more comfortable). He was already not happy with the menu, not so much as to what was on the menu, but, it stated, A la Carte, which it was not. It was either two course £54 or three for £59! And on top of that, the Dorset Crab was a £10 supplement, Steak another £10; Vegetables a £4.50 and Cheese another £10!

Having perused the Menu, Friend, asked me ” what is Soulard Duck”? Not a clue was my reply, a quick Google found it to be a tho of duck from the Vendée in France, either fatty or not fatty, I assume a bit like Gressingham Duck Of UK origins. The menu stated only Soulard Duck, no mention if it was breast or leg or confit ( it turned out to be breast). However, when the Maitre D was asked about Soulard Duck , he looked down from great height ( he was even taller than himself) rather snootily and told us. So we ordered , me the green asparagus, Himself the caramelised onion tart and Friend carpaccio of fish, followed by the Duck, Himself, Lamb Wellington and myself the Cod, ( with more asparagus but this time white.

Actually the food was very nice, well cooked and well presented. Himself found that the caramelised onion tart a bit tough to cut ( too much caramel perhaps ) but I had no such problems, not with my starter nor my main, the Cod was just lovely. Himself declared that the Lamb Wellington was really good ( must include that in my repertoire) but I thought the pea accompaniment looked rather odd, a bit spotty as was the beetroot with the duck. Friend announced that the duck was perfect, but no comment on the beetroot. Himself commented that the peas were on a bed of lettuce and subsequently fairly difficult to eat.

Marks out of ten,

Food 9

Value for money 5 ( too expensive especially for a Monday night) we did not have, dessert or wine or crab or cheese or steak!

Service 3 , the Maitre D was snooty and the waiter not that good either, so sorry Orrery !

Return again , well no not really !

Oh and the meaning of Orrey? something to do with a clockwork model of the Solar System? Beats Me !