About Wine

We learn things from drinking wine. Probably, the first one is: don’t drink too much. If you cannot control the amount and frequency, you shouldn’t drink at all.

Besides, this is what I have learned:

. You have to change and try different wines.

. You have to have a memory of tastes, so that you can create a space between wines and recognize similarities and differences.

I think this is the main I learned so far.

Travelling and Cooking

One good thing about travelling is the chance to vary our food routines. We learn about different dishes, tastes and savoir faire. I found myself thinking about such things because my “chef” Tieta is trying to get a new ID card, something quite painful around here, and I was standing for her in the kitchen.

My lunch included:
. red beans soup with squash and spinach;
. tomato and lettuce salad;
. cod croquettes (pastéis de bacalhau);
. patatas bravas.

In short, it’s all about Spanish and Portuguese cuisine, places where I’ve been recently. I just wonder: if I had visited Thailand, would I be cooking tom kha instead?

Against Fake Promises and Crowded Spaces

I am against deceitful advertisement. Last Thursday, instead of coming up with some idea for Tales From the Sea, I visited a restaurant. Lately, I am into jazz. I just don’t know where the inclination came from… I suppose jazz is big right now or will be in times to come.

The restaurant in question advertised jazz and jazz we got. But such a shy presence and quantity! I was disappointed with that advertised part of the restaurant. The rest – place, food, service and atmosphere – was very okay. Company was brilliant. I don’t like when people advertise something that we don’t get. That’s all I have to say.

Actually, I have something to add. Two days after that we went to a sunset café. It used to be quiet and private. Things changed. Now it’s busy and crowded. The café is prospering. The sunset is fading away.

We Like It Hot

When one has a chef for so long as Tieta, only two things happen: 1) Food gets boring. 2) Food gets fantastic. To be honest, both boring and fantastic happen around here.

Even though I love curry, I wouldn’t have realized how good Tieta’s chicken curry had become if not for the opinion of friends and requests for the recipe. Well, I also have a role in the process, since I am the coconut blender and the curry powder mixer. I also underline the importance of the coconut and coriander. So here you have our chicken curry:

Hot Chicken Curry
1 chicken (2 to 4 people) cut into small to medium portions
2 or 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1 portion of salt
2 gloves of garlic
1 large onion
1/2 chopped green or red pepper (no skin)
1 good portion of curry powder
2 tablespoons of any good tomato (or 2 chopped tomatoes)
1 large coconut
1 generous portion of fresh coriander

Curry Powder
1 to 2 large tablespoons of a good commercial curry powder (medium or hot)
1 small portion (coffee spoon or less) of ginger powder
1 small portion of turmeric
1 small portion of allspice ground
1 small portion of cloves (powder or as they are)
1 small portion of cayenne pepper
1 small portion of paprika
1 small portion of zhoug blend
1 or 2 bay leaves
Mix together and use it over the chicken in the early stages of cooking. I vary the portion depending on the season and the curry. Just as an example, I tend to use more ginger with chicken, more cloves and bay leaves with meat or more turmeric and paprika with prawns.

Coconut milk
Cut the coconut flesh into small cubes and carefully use the blender and hot water to produce the milk. You can use the soft brown skin. Drain it, preferably with a clean cloth, and purr it into the pan.

1. Rub and marinate the chicken portions with crushed salt and garlic.
2. In a large pan, let the chopped onion gently fry in a little bit of oil.
3. Still gently, the chicken cooks for 10 to 15 minutes.
4. Add the curry powder.
5. Add the pepper and tomato.
6. Add the coconut milk and gently stir until boiling (mainly the surface). From then on, stir it from time to time. It gets clotted if unattended or covered. Actually, you cannot cover the pan until the curry is completely cold.
7. Finally, 10 minutes or so before creamy and ready, rectify the salt and add the chopped coriander. Should be ready at least half an hour before the meal and it’s even more creamy and delicious the next day. Serve with basmati rice and the usual complements and enjoy it!

I Still Remember

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It’s that time of the year when we read about exceptional restaurants. I like exceptional and expensive restaurants. I visited quite a few. The difference between a really good restaurant and an average one is like the difference between expensive clothing and the rest available out there. I bought both so I know the difference. Average clothing asks for a little of attention, like searching for imperfections or cutting all the lines hanging everywhere.

It’s difficult to find “lines hanging” in good restaurants, but let me tell you: they are not mistake proof. I will never forget that I got really sick after eating in one of the most exclusive restaurants in Europe.

In terms of European food, I bet in Italian (north). The freshness and quality is way above average. I was lucky to find a good restaurant where I had the most wonderful meals. Good food is addictive. We keep coming. I intend to return. Lucky me, it is miles and miles away or I would be incredibly fat by now.

Nevertheless, when someone asks me about the best meal I ever had, I won’t answer a fancy name or even the amazing Italian restaurant I was just talking about. My best meal ever was at a humble road stop. I was with a group of male and female friends. We had stopped for a drink and one of the girls said she was hungry. The owner said his wife was at the kitchen, where she prepared meals, not at the costumer’s request but whatever she was in the mood to cook.

We entered the kitchen. I cannot remember her face. She must have been middle age or older. It was a cold winter in the hinterland. The kitchen felt warm and inviting. We sat at a wooden table. A wooden fire burned in the grate. She was frying chips with fragrant olive oil. Without any question or observation, she put a dish in front of each of us. It was pretty simple: pork roast and fries. We couldn’t stop eating. It was like a sortilege. She was a witch and we were under her spell.

Recently I talked about that experience to a friend. She told me I must have been very hungry. I don’t think so. I’ve been hungry many times and I don’t have a single idea of what I had. It could have been the warmth of the kitchen. It could have been the company. It could have been a million things. The fact remains as it is: my best meal ever was at a humble road stop in the middle of nowhere.

You Make Me Feel Hungry…

I am not a disciplined eater. I don’t opt always for healthy and I lack appetite for most of the foods. Because of that, I rely on supplements and even those are easily forgotten.

However, this is what makes me feel particularly hungry:

A good book or a good movie. Bad ones make me feel sleepy…

Family. Gatherings are food events…

The idea of death. Proving that food has a destructive side…

Sex. Before during or after…

Italy. Not the usual pizza corner, obviously…

Solitude. I worry about food when I am alone, because I am afraid I’ll forget it.

Red wine. Because I only drink when I eat, sometimes I enjoy eating only because there’s also a glass of wine.

Aromas from kitchens or bakeries on cold days. I’ve entered places and knocked at doors because of such aromas… What about you?

(The image is about a favorite: a fish soup I invented, following a basic chicken soup recipe. It requires an absurd quantity of coriander.)

Antonia and the Virtues of Baking

I am the granddaughter of someone I regard as one of the best chefs ever. Regrettably, compared to her skills, I am just an average cook. I have phases. Lately they are less and less frequent, since I work day and night.

More than a simple gesture of doing things with pots and pans, cooking is surrounded with tantalizing memories and precious stories. I still remember sinful aromas and the dark room where my grandmother Antonia kept the final product of her baking. It was a bit irritating for us, children, to see the perfection of her cakes and cookies, since we were only allowed to feast on her rare mistakes. Because she never talked with other people or visited family and friends, I believe she inherit from her mother or grandmother the recipes she knew. She lived recluse at home, with two single daughters, managing her rather successful kitchen business. Her house used to be wealthy, before her husband, my grandfather Jacques, suffered an accident and changed his activity from businessman to addicted gambler.

I’ve been remembering grandmother Antonia since Christmas, the perfect baking time of the year. I don’t own my grandmother recipes. I just try to reproduce them. I shall always remember how she cooked and what she cooked. Probably, I feel guilty because I picked other recipes for my Christmas baking. This one I found while reading a newspaper. It wasn’t ingredients or method. I felt attracted by the story surrounding it. Surprisingly, this recipe never fails. It also proves that cooking somehow is related with our grandmothers.

On one occasion, during WW II, this lady’s grandmother took shelter in the doorway of a little bakery. Another woman took shelter there and they got to talking. Her son was fighting in Egipt and she regularly sent him her quick-to-make fruit loaf, containing no eggs or butter and only a touch of sugar. It was war time, after all. She shared the recipe. It’s a sort of “stone soup”. The recipe is good as it is, but you can add a couple of eggs and a little of this and that to improve it. It’s a baking proof recipe.

The Stranger in Plein Street
Ingredients
500g self-raising flour
250g (1 cup) raisins
250g (1 cup) sultanas
250g (1 cup) currants
250g (1 cup) sugar
Pinch of salt
Milk

Method
Mix all the dry ingredients together. Make a well in the centre and add enough milk to make a slack mixture, not quite dropping but not too stiff either. Pour into a well-greased loaf pan and smooth the top. Bake at 180C for 65-75 minutes.

Optional ingredients
1 to 3 eggs; 2ml of oil or melted butter; rinse the fruit and add a good dollop of brandy; substitute part of the fruit for nuts; use any other dried cake fruit; almond flour instead of plain flour, half is really good; brandy poured over the hot cake and a teaspoon of mixed spice.