Egg yolk pudding

All sorts of things are named pudding, sweet or savoury, with ingredients that can include dairy, starch, rice...

In Portugal puddings are desserts, cooked in specific pleated moulds with a lid. Milk-based puddings are common, and typically go by "french pudding". But if you want a heavenly pudding, all you need is egg yolks, sugar, water and some Port wine. It is easy to make if you are strict with some details. 

The first thing to do is coat the mould with caramel. Of course there is ready made caramel, but it is fairly simple to make it directly in the mould, burning the sugar on the stove (avoid this if your mould has any soldered parts). You can also cook it aside in a regular pan and then pour it into the mould. 

  • 130 g sugar for the caramel (approximately, use more if you cook it in a pan, there will be some caramel left)

Caramel is very easy to make: just put the white sugar in the pan (no water) on medium heat, and it will quickly begin to turn into a thick brown paste; stir gently, there will be some smoke and a caramel scent. Be very careful, sugar boils at 186º Celsius (367º F) and getting a caramel burn is not nice. As soon as you stop seeing any white sugar, get it away from the fire and handle it quickly, because it turns solid very fast as the temperature goes down. Roll it around with the help of a spoon, until the inside of the mould is all coated. If you cook it in a pan, pour it in the pudding mould and use a spoon to quickly coat the mould, middle axis included.

By the way, the caramel in the first picture has been cooked on the fireplace (not recommended!) because our induction stove would not work on the aluminium mould. In this case, the safe way to go would have been to make the caramel in a pan...

Warning: do not let small children near you as you prepare caramel - the sugar burns, there is smoke, and everything has to be done quickly. You will not be able to supervise them and caramel burns will be harder to avoid.

When the mould is all coated, leave it to cool while you prepare the pudding. We leave it upside down on a plate. In case too much caramel has gone into the coating, it will drip. You can remove the excess caramel over the rim of the mould when it solidifies, just break it off with the help of a knife. It will be very brittle and not as sweet as caramel candy, but ok to eat.

Now for the pudding dough. 

First of all, weigh the 4 ingredients:

  • 800 g sugar
  • 320 g water
  • 400 g egg yolk (approximately 2 dozen eggs, preferably at room temperature)
  • 80 g red Port wine (a tawny works best because it has a more intense flavour and is also much cheaper)
If you have a good scale you can do the weighing directly on the pan: weigh the sugar first, zero the scale, pour in the water. 

Take your sugar to a gentle boil and test for the "sugar point" as we say in Portuguese, which is actually the density of the sugar+water mix or the sugar sirup stage.

We want the "pearl" point, which is easily detected if you take part of the mixture on your spoon, blow a bit to cool it down and then let it drip slowly from the spoon. The sugar will flow and then stop, leaving a little pearl attached to the spoon. This is the density you want, turn off the heat and let the sugar cool for a while. The amount of water and sugar indicated should bring it pretty close to the desired density as soon as it boils.

In the meantime, use the scale again and weigh the yolks and the Port wine. We used separated yolks sold in 1 kg cartons. You will get the same with 2 dozen large eggs, separating the yolks carefully. This will be a good task for children to help, and you can use egg-separator gadgets...

Measure the Port, this small amount is enough, so a bottle will last many puddings.

 Stir gently (do not whisk, just loosen the yolks a bit with the wine).

By the time the sugar sirup has cooled down, pour it slowly into the yolks. It is easier with two people, but you can do it easily with a saucepan. Start with just a drip of sugar sirup, stir the yolks to mix it in and continue, making sugar drip faster as the mix warms up.

Now pour the dough into the caramelised pan. Put the mould into a pan where it fits (not too tightly) and put the lid on. The pan should have some water, but not too much; as you sink the mould, the water should not go above more than half its height.

Put the lid on the pan as well and turn the heat on. As soon as the water boils, bring the heat down to a steady slow boil point. Let it cook for 1 hour. When the time is up, turn off the heat, take the pudding mould out of the pan (be careful with the hot water) and take the lid off. The top of the pudding should look well cooked and the overall feel should be jelly-like, not liquid.

It will probably smell wonderfully, but you will have to wait at least 12 hours to remove it from the mould and look at the result. If you make the pudding in advance (up to 1 week), you can just let it stay in the mould until just before serving - it will look better and there will be no danger of it collapsing.

The pudding is an excellent dessert to bring if friends invite you over for dinner. Just carry the pudding still in the mould, unmould it in the destination to a local plate, and take the mould back on the same plain bag (lid on).

The result, we can assure, is amazing.

Enjoy!

Early spring recipes: purple cabbage and chicken stew

This is what we call comfort food. It is lovely for an early spring dinner by the fireplace when it's cold outside. Serves 5-7.

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium sized onions
  • olive oil
  • 1 purple cabbage
  • 6 boneless chicken breasts, sliced in cubes
  • 1 table spoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 cup white wine vinegar
  • salt
  • bread or toasts

Fry the onion in olive oil until golden, add the chicken and stir until the outside gets cooked. Slice the cabbage in quarters lengthwise and remove the thick white part. Slice into small bits and add to the pot. Stir until the cabbage softens a bit and then add the mustard, vinegar, salt and water. How much water you add depends on how much you like dipping bread into the stew. If you don't - add just enough water to cover half the height of the cabbage and chicken in the pot. If you're using a pressure cooker, close the lid and cook for 15-20 minutes after it reaches steam. In a regular pot count on 45 minutes to one hour.

Serve with toasts or good quality bread.

Enjoy!

Really fast risotto in a pressure cooker

We've recently become huge fans of the book "Modernist Cuisine at Home". It certainly changed the way we cook risotto. It used to take over 40 minutes to prepare a risotto the traditional way (constantly stirring the rice and adding stock) and now it takes 10-15 minutes (including preparation time).

Today we made an improvised risotto recipe with frozen hake and freshly cut vegetables but you can cook any risotto recipe using this technique.

You'll need:

  • a pressure cooker
  • olive oil
  • 1 large or 2 small onions
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • frozen hake fillets (360g)
  • fresh vegetables (we used what we picked from the garden - small broccoli sprouts and a small cabbage)
  • salt
  • freshly grounded black pepper
  • frozen cilantro leaves (yes, we had fresh cilantro growing in the garden, but it was pouring rain outside...)

Preparation:

Gently fry the onion and garlic clove in a bit of olive oil (just enough to cover the bottom of the pressure cooker) until the onion turns golden (using the pressure cooker with no lid on). Add the rice until it looks semi-translucent in the borders (approximately 2 minutes). Add 2.5 times the amount of water, e.g., 1 cup of dry rice: 2.5 cups water. Add the vegetables and the frozen fish (fresh fish might overcook) and lock the lid securely using the pressure cooker's instructions. Set the heat on high to bring the cooker to pressure. You'll know this happens when the escape valve begins to release steam. Once it reaches pressure, immediately lower the heat to a setting that will just barely maintain pressure. Time 7 minutes.

Place the pressure cooker in the sink and run cold water over it until the pressure drops. At this stage if you remove the pressure valve there should be almost no sound of escaping steam. Once all the pressure has been removed it is safe to open the lid. Season to taste with the salt, peeper and cilantro. Gently stir the rice to avoid smashing the fish fillets and serve hot.

Other risotto recipes benefit from grated cheese added in the final step. We prefer this one cheese free but mushroom risotto calls for cheese. Just remember to close the lid after adding the cheese and allowing it to melt for 2 minutes before serving.

Enjoy!



Summer recipes: gazpacho

One of our favourite summer dishes is gazpacho, the best cold soup ever. Come August the farm is usually producing tons of different kinds of tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions and bell peppers and we keep trying to find ways of using up all of those fresh flavours. There's no greater luxury than being able to cook with ingredients freshly picked from the garden.

Our version goes like this:

You'll need:

  • 3-4 pounds of tomatoes (any kind - we usually mix several types)
  • 1 green bell pepper cored and seeded
  • 1 cucumber sliced and seeded (you don't have to peel it - the strong flavour is actually from the seeds)
  • 1 purple onion (or 2 small ones)
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup of white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon black freshly grounded black pepper
  • 1/2 tablespoon salt
  • fresh mint leaves as decoration
  • a food processor

We put each separate vegetable ingredient in a cup and use the food processor to chop everything up in turn. You'll need several cups for the tomato. 

The visual effect of adding each chopped ingredient to a big glass bowl is amazing. If you want to impress guests mix everything up just before serving - it looks gorgeous. 

After you do that, season with the vinegar, olive oil and pepper, sprinkle some mint leaves and enjoy!

To be completely honest, it will taste even better if you mix everything up 2 hours before serving and leave it in the fridge, but it's a little less spectacular to watch.

Summer recipes: chicken kryptonite

This is one of our favorite summer recipes when we have lots of basil and zucchinis. The name is self-explanatory once you see the final result - it looks radioactive green but tastes superb.


Ingredients for 5:

  • 1 cup of pesto (basic recipe or with nuts)
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 1 chopped garlic clove
  • olive oil
  • 4 chicken breasts chopped in cubes
  • 2 or 3 zucchinis unpeeled, chopped in cubes
  • 200g of fusilli pasta
  • salt

Preparation:

Gently fry the onion and garlic clove in a bit of olive oil (just enough to cover the bottom of a large pan) until the onion turns golden. Add the chicken until it is cooked, then add the zucchini and the pasta (add water as needed just so the ingredients don't stick to the bottom of the pan) and a pinch of salt. Let it simmer for 10-12 minutes and then add the pesto, and keep stirring while it cooks for another 2 minutes.


Enjoy!

Summer recipes: traditional grilled sardines

Grilled sardines are a traditional summer food in Portugal. They're in vogue right at the start of summer when they're eaten in a bunch of traditional parties. In reality the time when they're really good is a bit later when summer is in full swing. You can tell because the sardines start to be fatter and that gives them a lot more taste.

Yesterday our local fish supplier had some really good looking ones so we bought 4 a person and asked her to prepare the fish. She takes out the entrails so you bring the fish home ready to cook. All that is needed is to mix them with some coarse sea salt and put them on the grill. We also grilled some peppers at the same time.


Both the sardines and the peppers are ready when you get the exterior looking toasted. The idea with both is that the outside layer (skin in the sardines and peel in the peppers) is removed before eating. The peppers can take more heat so usually you start them early when the grill is going strongest. That also gives you time before the sardines are ready to peel and slice the peppers and mix them with some olive oil and garlic. 


After everything was done we just ate the sardines together with what was fresh from the garden. Yesterday that was some padron peppers, the first tomatoes of the year and a lettuce and basil salad. A little olive oil and some red wine and we had a great lunch.

Summer recipes: pesto

We've been making pesto for a few years now and have tried every variation you can think of. This is the basic recipe on which you can experiment by adding extra ingredients if you like. We tend to prefer it simple or with macadamia nuts.

If you grow basil, it is very important that you keep the plants pruned regularly. We've managed to keep the same plants producing new leaves continuously throughout the summer and part of autumn this way. Basil plants need to be prevented from flowering until you are ready to collect seeds for the following year. Flowering means the plant is done with producing more leaves. To stop it you'll need to (at least) weekly chop off the top of the stems showing signs they are about to flower and any flowers already present. They should be pruned immediately over the place where you see two leaves sprouting, which will then grow into two more stems. See the photos for an explanation.


Basic ingredients:

  • Basil leaves
  • Olive oil
  • Salt

Extra ingredients:

  • Walnuts
  • Almonds
  • Pine nuts
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Parmesan cheese (if you use it cut back on the salt in the basic recipe, parmesan cheese is pretty salty)

Preparation:

All you have to do is wash the leaves, add the olive oil and a pinch of salt and use a food processor to turn everything into a delicious mush. Just add the other ingredients in this stage of the process if you want. Just beware that macadamia nuts are a little harder and you need a little longer in the processor. As for quantities, we just fill the food processor cup with leaves, fill it to 1/4 with olive oil and add a few grains of salt. If you want a thinner pesto just add more olive oil. See the photos for the whole process:


We use pesto to season all kinds of salads as well as some warm dishes, like "chicken kryptonite" (coming up). We always look forward to the summer as it means pesto and basil every week.

Francesinha - Porto's famous "sandwich"

Without a doubt one of the best sandwiches you can make if you can call it that. It's a typical pub dish in Porto, usually accompanied with some fries to dip in the sauce and a nice beer. You can get them all over town and everyone has a favorite place. For us the reference has always been "Capa Negra II". Recently we have started making our own.

The sauce takes a few hours to make (most of the time unattended) but it is well worth it. It freezes well so it is a good idea to make large quantities. You'll find it is miles away from the quick beer-based versions. The key to the best francesinha is to use only exceptional ingredients.

Ingredients for the sauce:
- extra virgin olive oil
- 2 onions
- 2 garlic cloves (optional)
- 4 pounds tomato, ripe
- 300g beef (any kind as long as it has just a little fat)
- 2 carrots
- tomato concentrate
- 2 pounds of shrimp, shells only (next time time you eat shrimp remember to save them!)
- english (Worchestershire) sauce
- Dijon mustard
- chilli sauce
- 1/3 cup Brandy
- 1/3 cup Port wine
- salt

Ingredients for the sandwich
- 1 loaf of sliced white bread sliced (2 or 3 slices per sandwich); you need to find a decent brand that actually tastes like bread, don't get the preservative filled disappointment that comes with anything that advertises on TV
- sirloin steak (100g per sandwich - 1 steak)
- fresh pork sausages (1/2 per sandwich)
- black pork linguiça (1/3 per sandwich)
- turkey salami with olives (1 slice per sandwich)
- "flamengo" cheese (if you can't find it, edam cheese will do the job - 4-5 slices per sandwich)

For the sauce
In a large tall pan, gently fry the chopped onions and garlic in olive oil until the onions turn transparent. Add the beef (in small chunks) and cook until it looks evenly cooked on the outside. Add the carrots, chopped. Add the tomatoes (I usually use the processor to chop them first, but you can just chop them coarsely), 1 table spoon of tomato concentrate and 4 pounds of water. (When we run out of tomatoes, we use frozen tomato sauce which is what you see in the photos. Tomato sauce is just tomato cooked in onions and olive oil. We freeze it in plastic cups to make it easy to use.) Let it simmer for 2-3 hours. Meanwhile, prepare a shrimp stock. It's really easy, just fry the shrimp shells (heads included) in some olive oil, add 3-4 cups of water and bring to boil for 15 minutes. Use a hand blender to puree the stock and then filter. Add a cup of the shrimp stock to the sauce and boil for a few minutes. Season with the english sauce (1 table spoon), 1 table spoon Dijon mustard, the brandy and Port wine, chilli sauce, black pepper and salt to taste. Let it simmer another 15 minutes and use a hand blender to turn everything into a smooth thick sauce. Have a taste. With me it always needs more salt and chilli. Keep warm until you serve it extra hot over the sandwich.


For the sandwich
Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC (360F). Slightly toast the bread slices. Fry the steaks, sausages and black pork linguiça in olive oil. It is easier to fry the linguiça if it is previously sliced in half lenghtwise so it doesn't curl.


And now for the serving, from the base to the top (see animation): 1 slice of bread, 1 slice salami, half a sausage and 1/3 of a linguiça, the sirloin steak, the second slice of bread and finally the cheese covering the top and sides of the sandwich. In the animation, you'll see 3 slices of bread, but we've been trying to cut down on our carbs and I think it's better with less bread.

Put them in the oven for 5 minutes or until the cheese starts melting too much.

Serve in a deep plate and cover with hot sauce. Accompany with good beer. If you're in Porto that's either the dominant Super Bock or one of the new crafts beers like Sovina's wheat brew in the photo.
Enjoy!

Winter recipes: homemade tangerine liqueur

This winter, we decided it was time to start making liqueurs. We had got some grape marc spirit to use as the base alcohol, but you can use almost any kind of strong alcohol to make liqueurs. Vodka, spyritus, grappa... We got an old family recipe from a friend and decided to try it out.

It is actually easier that we had anticipated, but you need to be prepared to be patient.

You'll need:

  • 1L grape marc spirit (or any other distilled alcohol without too much flavor)
  • 600g white sugar
  • 600 mL water
  • 18 ripe tangerines, skins

If you look for other recipes online, a common advice is to remove the whitish inside of the skins to prevent bitterness. We had to test this, because it adds a lot more work to the preparation. We actually made two batches - one with inside of the skins removed and another without. We can't tell which is which now that they're done. So it really doesn't seem to make a difference and you can save yourself the trouble.

Preparation:

Cut the skins into tiny pieces, mix them up with the alcohol and leave to rest in a closed jar for at least 2 weeks (we actually left them 2 weeks longer).

Filter the mixture and reserve the flavoured alcohol and the skins.

It should look like this:

Put the sugar in a pan and use a strainer on top of the pan to wash the leftover skins in the cooking water that you add to the pan. You won't need to use the skins for the rest of the recipe, but we kept them (they smelled wonderful!) and used them to season other dishes. Boil the sugar and water for 5 min and leave to cool.

Add the filtered flavoured alcohol to the pan, stir, and carefully pour into some glass bottles:

And now for the real test on patience - the liqueur gets better with time, but that means refraining from drinking it in the first months. Alternatively you could fill several small bottles and taste the evolution of flavours. It is amazing!