Happy New Year, dear blog readers!
2015 ended with a familiar picture – a week in the city of Porto, in the north of Portugal. I unreservedly LOVE this city. Not only because I was born here and lived here for over 25 years, but because it is genuinely one of the top cities in Europe to visit. It has everything: tradition and culture, sea and sand, river, architecture, rich history, lots of sunshine and, of course, beautiful food. I won’t dwell too much on all the positive aspects of this city or go into too much detail about food in Porto – that would need a whole series of blog posts. What I want to do is give you a little glimpse of this last food week, using photos I took (when I remembered!).
Please don’t think I am an expert in beer. I’m not. But I do love a good beer. And if you do too, you will know that the Belgians do good beer, and so do the Dutch and the Germans. Before I came to England I never thought the English did good beer. And when I tried ale for the first time I couldn’t understand why anyone enjoyed this lifeless, warm liquid. As people raved about it I kept trying. And then I tried some more… with the trying came curiosity about local and seasonal ales, a bit of reading and some more tasting.
I feel strongly about this topic mainly because over the years I have had quite a few people expressing indignant views about my use of salt when I cook. I truly believe that many people misunderstand the use of salt in food. Salt is not to make food salty (though if used in excess, eventually that is what happens). Salt is an enhancer of flavour. It makes food speak louder, it turns the volume up, it develops the flavours by waking our senses up when we eat, it makes them sing. Without it, many dishes don’t taste of much and are left with texture alone for interest. Not enough for me I’m afraid. The funny thing is that my food does not taste salty but if my guests are with me when I add salt during cooking they always make a comment. Ok, I have occasionally put too much but also have sometimes put too little, just like any other cook.
Whilst my kitchen is being rebuilt I thought I should share a recent pleasant discovery in the world of food – a lovely potato. There are many types out there and I don’t know about you but I feel a bit muddled with all the terms and purposes. Waxy, starchy, good for salads, good for mash, good for roasting…
This is how I rate this one: velvety, sweet and delicious. It was part of some independent variety trials in 2014 and all I can say is that I hope it becomes a common sight in UK supermarkets.
Defying the rules I decided to roast it even though the packet said it’s meant to be good for salads. It more than delivered on flavour and texture, and I guess that’s all you can ask of the humble potato.
It’s called Venezia and this is how I cooked it.
Although this photo is not the latest from my kitchen, you get the idea. Where once was a tiny family kitchen is now a lot of dust, plaster and debris. So there will be no cooking from me for a while, which means I won’t be able to post new recipes until it’s all back in place. I will keep posting, though, when I go somewhere worth talking about or to discuss food-things. So keep visiting!
Good news is a new kitchen is being put in place with more space and shiny new appliances. And an island! I always wanted an island. I can’t wait for trying it all! The bad news is that we can’t have the Aga back. It just didn’t fit and although I felt hugely sad to let it go, there was no other way. The Aga life will have to be for a bigger kitchen, if we ever get one, probably in another house (so not for a very long time). In the meanwhile, the new ovens and hob will have to do and I have high expectations for them.
The most important change in the kitchen, however, is that it will now become part of the family room, where we all gather every evening and on weekends. That means I will be able to do more cooking without losing sight of my favourite people in the world.
Over the years I have had an on-off fling with gin. It is one of those drinks with a terrible reputation (it is, after all, Mother’s ruin), an undefined origin (which country is it from originally?), but has recently gained renewed hype and become very much part of the Zeitgeist in the UK (and Spain and Portugal, that I know of).
Gin was always Mother’s ruin to me. I liked it, I did it and it hurt.
So I self-excluded from gin for a good 10 years.
I always liked the look and the idea of an Aga. I first came across one in a rented rural cottage in one of our family holidays in England. And being Portuguese and had never seen one, I thought it was a weird and quirky thing that scared me a little.
Since then, as I lived more years in England and as I became more interested in all things countryside, the Aga went from weird to cute and then to an object of desire. A ‘lifestyle’, even, and one I aspired to (even though I still had no idea how to use it).
We then moved to the countryside and the house we moved into had an Aga – I was so excited! And nervous… how was I going to cook my no-fail rice on it? No-fail rice needs a controllable simmering setting – setting no.1! There are no settings on an Aga, numerical or otherwise. There is very hot and not so hot. And hotter in the middle than on the edges. Still I was excited! Something new I needed to figure out in the kitchen!