A Few Hours in Lisbon

We had a few hours to spend in Lisbon the other week and we were fortunate enough to have encountered a native who was more than willing to pass along his local knowledge.

Given our restricted time frame, we decided to ride the open top bus to give us an overview of the city. The web site was not very helpful as it did not say if one could buy tickets on the bus ( which is normally the case) but encouraged buying on the internet. However having been on the buses in Mexico City and San Francisco, we decided it was worth taking a chance, and are glad we did. The bus experience was perhaps not the best we have had, but it did give us a good  idea of what the city was about and have a list of places and things for our next visit.

One of the things that Lisbon is particularly famous for are the “Pastéis de Nata”, these are rich custard tarts. They were created in the 18th Century by Monks in the monastery of Belem in Lisbon. After the revolution of 1820, when religious orders were facing extinction, the monks moved their business to a nearby sugar refinery but the monastery closed and the monks sold their recipe to the owners of the factory who started making the Pastei de Nata and the company is still owned by the same family.

Rumour has that on a weekend they will make anything up to 25000 Pasteis, which considering that they sell for about €1 each, is not an inconsiderable sum.

The recipe is of course a secret, but as with many secret recipes, one can play around until a passable effort is achieved. It is said that the English also like Custard Tarts and indeed I remember them as being a favourite of my fathers, but they are entirely different from the Portuguese versions. English custard tarts are exactly that, pastry cases filled with egg custard and baked. Whereas the Portuguese version is far more complicated, but not unduly so, especially if you buy the pastry.IMG_8059

For the pastry, buy either from the fresh shelve in the supermarket, or frozen, or of course you can make your own, but you will need plus or minus 500 grms.

For the custard you will need

  1. 3 Tabespoons ( about 30 grms) of plain flour
  2. 250 mls of milk
  3. 200 grms caster sugar
  4. a stick of cinnamon
  5. 150mls water
  6. 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  7. 6 large egg yolks whisked
  • Whisk the flour and a quarter of the milk together until fairly smooth. Stir in the rest of the milk.
  • Bring the water, sugar and cinnamon to a boil and boil until it reaches 220F / 100 C.
  • slowly add the sugar mix, having removed the cinnamon stick to the milk mixture, which will give a white liquid, similar double cream. It could go lumpy, but do not worry, ( I gave mine a quick whizz with a stick blender)
  • Por over this mixture onto the egg yolks, whisking all the while. Cover with cling film, with it touching the surface to avoid a skin forming on top.
  • Heat the oven to 250C ( 230 Fan) gas 9
  • unroll you pastry and put onto a floured surface, roll it out until it is fairly thin, and then roll up, cut into about 1/2″  discs .
  • Grease the holes of a standard muffin/cupcake pan. Carefully press the rolls up the sides of the pan working from the centre out until the pastry reaches the top.
  • Pour the custard into the cases to just below the top and bake in the middle of the oven until the pastry is crisp and golden.
  • The tops should be brown scorched even, and the custard will sink upon cooling. Keep in the pan for about 5 mins before easing out with the point of a knife. Cool on a cooling tray. Dust with icing sugar to serve.



Dessert Time !

I am not big into Desserts, neither the making of, nor the eating! Himself, is though very much into the eating of desserts, which I have to say he does not get very often!

When the kids were small, they would always ask ” what is for dessert?” and the answer, which would infuriate them , was always the same, it was either a “Was “(  Wait and See) or a “UFO” ( You’ll Find Out), however, dessert more often than not, was a yoghurt. Unless it was a cooking class day, when there might even be a choice, so definitely a “WAS” day!

Here at home we rarely have dessert, unless we have been entertaining and then there might be a plethora of desserts for himself to indulge in.

Whilst we were on the high seas for 16 days,  he was in his element, pastries at breakfast, afternoon tea, with crepe and cakes and cookies ( we did skip lunch I might add) and of course dessert at dinner!, So after three dessert-less weeks, this has seen Himself indulging once again.  The offerings were, Creamy Rich Chocolate Satin ( a thick mousse type) Japanese White Chocolate Cheese Cake, Eton Mess and Lemon Tart.

The only thing that was new in my repertoire, was the Lemon Tart. Sure, I’ve made a version of Lemon Tart, a zillion times over the years, but this version was new and so I will share with you. It is quiet Tart ( excuse the pun, so extra sugar might be needed)! Bizarrely, I found two round loose bottom tart pans, ( with no bottoms) and two square loose bottom pans, with bottoms, hence, this is a square lemon Tart!IMG_2483

Either make some pastry, using your tried and trusted recipe, or buy some if that is easier for you.

Then you will need

  1. 5 medium eggs beaten. Plus a yolk or white extra.
  2. 150 grms castor sugar
  3. juice of 2-3 large lemons ( plus one lemon preferable with thin skin for decoration)
  4.  the grated zest of one of the lemons ( optional, if you do not have a zester)
  5. 150 ml double cream

Roll out the pastry, on a floured surface, to a little larger than your tin. Cover with cling film and leave for about 15 mins for it shrink just a bit. If you over roll your pastry it will become hard, so be carefull ! Heat the oven to 160 ( fan) 180 ( non Fan)Line your tin with the pastry, and then some greaseproof paper. I would recommend leaving the pastry hanging over the sides of your tin, in the first instance, so that if it does shrink, it is no big  deal and can be trimmed subsequently. Leave to stand for another 15 mins if you have the time. Pour into the tin, ( on top of the greaseproof paper,) something to hold the pastry down. This can be rice, lentils,  flour or if you have them some baking beans ( usually made out of ceramic.) If using rice or lentils, you can use them time and time again, just store them , marked baking, so that no-one will try to really cook with them!

Bake the pastry case “Blind” for 15 minutes.

In the meantime, start making the filling. To the beaten eggs, whisk in the sugar, lemon juice and zest and then the cream. Warm it slightly, keep an eye on it as you do not want it to either scramble or curdle.

Remove the pastry from the oven, remove the greaseproof paper and beans, paint the pastry with either a beaten egg yolk or white, it will stop the bottom becoming “Soggy”, stir the cream mixture and pour carefully into the tin and bake for about 20 mins. until the pastry is more or less cookedand the filling firm. Trim the pastry if needed.

Meanwhile thinly slice the lemons, either into segments or into rounds. Put into a bowl and pour over some boiling water, to soften them ready for decorating the tart.

Blot the lemon slices, remove the tart from the oven, decorate with the lemon slices, bake for another 5-10 mins, for the lemons to take on some colour.

Serve warm, dusted with some icing sugar and with a dollop of cream.

Something for Smoked Haddock Lovers!

Himself Loves smoked Haddock, Kippers, Arbroath Smokies and Mackerel, in fact anything that is a bit smelly on the fish front. Me? I’m maybe not so keen!

My “go to” dinner for Himself  using smoked Haddock, is poached smoked haddock on a bed of steamed spinach with a couple of poached eggs on top. So I will make that for Him, whilst I have something else, maybe Smushed Avocado with a poached egg, or an Avocado Salad.

Anyway this week, saw me being more creative with the smoked Haddock. I usually buy when I am in Costco, as theirs is always of the more lightly smoked variety and then I will cut it into portions and freeze. And so I made a cross between a soup and a fish stew. What can we call it? Well let us start with Haddock and spinach stew, though that doesn’t sound very enticing!

Quantities are very much made up, kind of what you have and what you fancy. However the basis for the stew areIMG_1528

  1.  2-3 onions finely sliced, ( I usually go for red onions as they don’t make you cry so easily !)
  2.  1/2 tsp ground coriander and 1/2 tsp turmeric
  3. 3-4 slices of pancetta (or streaky bacon or even lardons which have been sautéed to crisp the fatty bits)
  4. 300 grams small new potatoes cut into 2’s
  5.  750 mls of either vegetable or fish stock ( bought is OK but watch out for the salt content)
  6. 1Kilo of smoked Haddock, de-boned and skin removed, cut into chunks about 1 inch square.
  7. 150 grams baby spinach washed
  8. a few sliced mushrooms
  9. about 8 small cherry tomatoes
  10. a knob of butter and a tablespoon of olive oil

Fry the onions in the butter and olive oil along with the coriander and turmeric until the onions are soft but not brown.

Slice the pancetta or bacon, add the bacon/pancetta along with the potatoes and simmer until the potatoes are cooked. Add the fish and cook for another 5 minutes, then add the tomatoes and mushrooms. Cook for another couple of mins and then finally add the spinach. Taste and adjust seasoning.IMG_5141

Spoon the stew into bowls, maybe topped with creme fraiche or even a poached egg and served with some crusty bread.


Our Man in Havana

It has been a while, since I put a pen to paper. We have more or less been out of WiFi area for a while.

We went to Havana for a few days. It has been 3 years since we were last there and we saw a lot of changes.

To start with, our transfer from the airport was in a modern taxi, the last time we chose a classic car, but I don’t remember seeing many modern taxis around, and this one was a “People Mover” type, to boot !

Our hotel, part of the Accor group ( Sofitel, Mercure etc,) was the first luxury hotel built-in Havana, in 1905. However nothing much has changed in it since the revolution, 60 years ago, very much faded glory, dim lights, dodgy plumbing and dubious, not inspiring food ( we only tried the breakfast). AND very dodgy internet, which was only available in the hotel lobby ! But never mind, we were not here for the internet, except we did need it urgently, but that is another story.

Our “Go To” Cafe for a decent coffee, in Plaza Veija, is still there and the coffee is still good, and our “Go To” Bar opposite the cafe is also still there and is still good, one in the shade for the morning and the other shady for the afternoon !

Our favourite restaurant a Paladores ( privately owned) in Calle Mercadores ,  ( Paladar Los Mercadores) is also still there. Three years ago, it was new, as the Castro regime had just given permission for individuals to open up their homes as restaurants or B nB’s. On our previous visit we were impressed by the food and the enterprising nature of the owner, he had converted the best rooms in his house into the dining area and had commissioned farmers and friends to grow produce for him, and he himself went fishing daily. However, on this occasion he was not around. The food was just as good, but the service was decidedly pushy. Our waiter tried very hard to sell us a $70 bottle of wine, but Himself is not someone to be pushed, but, it turned out that 90% of the wine on the menu was not to be had! Supply problems? Or was it the thought of selling us a $70 bottle of wine that was the problem, we will never know.

Our starters were not particularly memorable, not bad, just not outstanding. But the mains ! Wow!

Himself took a bouillabaisse type of fish stew, which was a speciality of Santiago de Cuba, and I chose the Catch of the Day, which was Tuna. The fish stew was excellent full of local fish and spicy. My Tuna was a huge slab of excellent Tuna, not as pink as I would have liked but nonetheless, wonderful. We had decided that we would swap halfway through and I’m glad we did, because it would have been a shame not to have been able to taste and enjoy the alternative fish dish.

Given the fact that Cubans on the whole do not eat fish, it is amazing that someone, somewhere remembers how to cook it! Since the Revolution and more recently since the withdrawal of Russian support from the island, when the average Cuban lost 1/3 of their body weight, fish became a major export and 90% of fish that is caught is exported.

The next evening we ventured out and would take “Pot  Luck”. we walked down the whole length of Emperado, this is Old Havana at it’s best, people hanging out of windows, kids playing in the streets , music everywhere and nowadays people proffering menus, for us to look at! “Come and try Mama’s cooking” they would say!

We wound up in an area where we had eaten on our previous visit, next door to the artists, colony,  in Callejon del Chorro another of Mama’s Home cooking areas. We were sure that Mama was in the back cooking as instantaneous it was not, but it was good and fresh and for people who have supply problems, they deal with the situation extremely well, and then Mama came to see if we had enjoyed her cooking, the answer was a resounding YES!

We were glad that we avoided the hotel restaurant, it was heavily advertised as having the best view in Havana. That aside it was a cavernous room, soulless and empty. They were serving either beef or ostrich ( neither of which are readily available in Cuba !

On our last morning we once again and walked into Old Havana where cars are mostly prohibited. We had seen a possibility for breakfast, and after a few missed junctions we finally found it and were not disappointed. Good coffee, good bread,  pastries and fruit. In fact the whole of this tiny street was filled with equally tiny cafes, and the man on the corner selling onions and  a smart boutique, selling Cuban Designer clothes!

For a quick overview of Havana, apart from taking one of the classic cars to spin you around, there is now a tour bus, of the “hop on hop off” variety. Having ” done ” the classic car thing on our last visit, we took the bus.. We stopped off at the cemetry or to be exact Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón, which was founded in 1876 and is one of the most important historical cemeteries in the world. It covers 140 Acres with over 800,000 tombs, almost all in white marble. It really is a fascinating place, with many famous people being buried there as well as the ordinary person. We found the family tomb of Ibrahim Ferrer, he died in 2005, and was a member of the Buena Vista Social club, their latin music has been played around the world.

We noticed many changes in Havana, The music was still there, with whole families now participating, going from hotel to hotel,  now there were signs everywhere, ‘Rooms to rent”, and the small cafes, a lot of building works and renovations and much more to be done. The shops are still basically empty of goods and there were people standing in line to buy basic commodities such as soap and shampoo and washing powder. The architecture is beautiful, but seriously needs help and in time it will come. We left via the docks ( more on that later )which certainly had seen better days, but time will tell.



On the Road again, USA Road Trip, part three.

Leaving the glitz of Las vegas behind, we now had a new plan, as we were ahead of schedule due to the snowfall in and around the Grand canyon. So where to go and what to do next. I had seen a programme on TV about one of the Californian Mission towns, San Luis Obispo, but himself seemed less than keen, until Yosemite came into the equation. The national park more or less on our route, home to El Capitain and the giant Sequoias.

Below is the view of Las Vegas with some Retirement homes in the foreground.

We set our from Las vegas, for the 300 mile trip to Bakersfield, our destination for the night. We travelled along Interstate 15, which went through the Mojave National Preserve ( ie read desert). The Alternative route was to go via Death Valley, which is much slower and although we were not in a hurry, it was a lot slower, and besides we have driven that route once before. About 60 miles or so into our journey, and remember this is desert, it looked like a mirage upon the horizon, the closer we got the more bizarre it appeared, and there on the State line, were Gas stations, Amusement parks and yes more Casinos!

Here  are views of the desert, which includes casinos on the State Line, a Solar Panel Farm ( presumably with Chinese Solar Panels, an aeroplane graveyard, an isolated community and a lone cow!

Travelling this route apart from desert and more desert, we were on the lookout for somewhere to stop and have a coffee, preferably not a Starbucks, but at this point anything might do.And there it was a BillBoard or two. Billboards are everywhere in the USA, even in the desert, if you have seen the movie Three Billboards outside Ebbing Missouri, then you will understand. Our first sign of such a Bill Board, was ” Peggy Sues Diner, 75 Miles ahead, or Big Fat Greek Diner, 65 Miles ahead!. We came upon these diners, literally i the middle of nowhere, we did not stop.

Finally we came to Bairstow, a one eyed town, or so we thought. I do it an injustice, according to Wikepedia, it has a population of 22,00, came to promince because of gold and silver, there is an army training ground nearby, a huge train depot and 20000, tourists on tour buses. What do they do there? I ask myself, there wasn’t any to make me linger ! It has about a dozen fast food outlets, including a Starbucks, which we did not see and a Jack in the Box!! I have never been in a jack in the Box, before and not sure I will again. A fish burger and an Iced Tea and we were ready to move on.

And move on we did, to Bakersfield California, Dwight Yokem once had a hit song about Bakersfield, not sure I remember it though !

Road Trip USA, Part 2, Grand Canyon and Beyond!

We woke this morning to a heavy snow fall ( Bathroom even colder at -16 C outside) but our thoughts were on where we were heading next. Monument Valley, an area in Navajo country in Utah. Monument Valley is a bit like Sedona, towering red sandstone structures, all typical of Cowboy Movies. But alas it was not to be. There are two possible short cut routes from the Grand Canyon National Park, but not that day, too much snow. After a quick telephone call to our lodge in Monument Valley, they confirmed our fears, no, not possible today. Even so, it took us 3 hours to drive over packed snow on a direct road to reach Flagstaff ( 80 miles away) We had the foresight to re-book our Flagstaff hotel, and just as well we did, Swirling snow and ice meant that even the mall was shut!! And it seemed like there was no room at the Inn, ( well we had ours). The only other time I had found a shopping mall to be closed, was in San Marcos Texas, Winter 1998. An ice storm hit Texas, my girlfriend  ( visiting from Belgium) and I were en route to an outlet mall, driving from Houston to San Marcos, about  4 hour drive. As we headed down I 10, it started to rain and it quickly turned to ice. If you ever see signs saying “BEWARE OF ICE ON BRIDGES” take careful note! The average Texan seemed to ignore this warning, hit the bridge at full speed, spin around and oops, crash. There were at least a couple of thousand crashes that evening, in and around San Antonio and San Marcus, the roads and streets were a sheet of ice. I’ve  just looked up the traffic reports for Texas 2016 and is makes for scary reading, 265,000 injuries in traffic accidents, 1 crash every 57 seconds! And we thought a road trip a good idea!

Back to Flagstaff, our hotel a new Courtyard by Marriott was across the parking lot from an Italian restaurant, which as you can imagine proved to be very popular that night. We staggered across the ice and propped ourselves up at the bar ( always entertaining) and had dinner, perfectly adequate, and perfectly nondescript, but I seem to remember the wine being drinkable. Unfortunately, the hotel had no dining facilities, which meant a trip to the closed mall,  for breakfast, where there was a Denny’s, and yes, it was open ( open 24 hours). Denny’s proved to be the cause of our only “Domestic” during our three-week trip. And so it was Denny’s for breakfast! Willowy brunette comments that himself has no right to be a slim man as in reality, he is a bit, of a gannet!

The Tale of Two Breakfasts, a His and Hers!
The Tale of Two Breakfasts!img_2020After, this wonderful breakfast, and the to be avoided cup of stewed coffee, we set out on what would have been Route 66. It is for the most part no more, occasionally, one sees a sign” Historical Route 66 but we did not bother with a diversion, we were headed to Las Vegas. Actually, we had no intention of visiting Las Vegas, but it is convenient for the Hoover dam. The Grand Canyon, which is 277 miles long, has Lake Powell( named after a one-armed civil war veteran ) at one end and the Hoover Dam at the other along with Lake Mead. Both lakes are in fact reservoirs but serve as recreational areas.

Our sylph like blond, had recently spent a long weekend in Las Vegas, and had fun, but commented that ” one haemorrhages money” Still being very close, we had to at least see The Strip. It can be seen from miles away, after all it is in the middle of a dessert  surrounded by mountains.

We cruised the Strip, along with the rest of the world, the neon lights, the honking of vehicles and the crazy pedestrians, but we did not stop and were glad to escape back to our hotel and yet another Mexican restaurant.Tex-Mex, Arizona-Mex, or Nevada-Mex, they are all the same, not Mexican. One can decided before setting foot inside what to eat and it all comes with refried beans and Mexican rice. My order always “Hold the Beans and Rice”!IMG_2451

The following day, we took another “Pink Jeep” trip to the Hoover Dam, quiet amazing and well worth the visit. The nearby town of Boulder was built in 1931 to accommodate the workers ( 5, 000) of them who came to build the Dam. It was government-owned and run and as such they did not allow Alcohol, Gambling or Prostitution, all of this could be done in Las Vegas, a mere 23 miles away, which was run by the MOB. The Boulder Dam hotel has had many famous people stay, including Clark Gable, who stayed there whilst waiting news of his wife, Carole Lombard. She died in a plane crash on nearby Potosi mountain.

On our little tour, we met an older couple from Boston, who munched on their Doritos, in our Jeep, and bought more junk food at the way station. Unfortunately we were unable to descend to the generator room in the Hoover Dam, as 53 people were stuck in the lift !

I asked the aforementioned couple, what other plans they had whilst in the area ( meaning, really what else are you going to visit/see) I have to admit to being taken aback with the reply. ” Well tonight we will just stay and have the Buffett at the Biagio and last night we saw the volcano erupt at the Mirage !!! Umm is this where FAKE NEWS came from?