All Year Salad

Winter has been kind this year. It's the afternoon sun that I like the most, with its warm light and long shadows. It's my favourite time of the day too. I was craving for a salad - it's my body making ready for spring - but the day I made it, temperatures went down and it was a bit chilly. So I remembered this salad, good for every time of the year, cold or warm and always good with any dressing.

Potato and Spinach Salad with Tuna

Serves 2

2 eggs, boiled (I used 8 quail eggs*)
8 small baby potatoes
100 grs baby spinach leaves
1 tuna steak (about 200 grs) or 2 cans of tuna
1 Tbsp capers, drained
2 Tbsp niçoise olives (I didn't have)
2 Tbsp olive oil
salt and ground black pepper

A while before grilling, marinate tuna in oil.
Steam spinach in boiling water with a pinch of salt for a couple of minutes. Drain and set aside. Do not discard the water, use it to cook potatoes (each with a small cut lengthwise) for 8-10 minutes. Boil the eggs. In a small pan, cook the steak 2 to 3 minutes on each side until cooked through. Combine drained potatoes and spinach in a medium bowl. Slice the tuna steak and mix in, together with capers and olives. Toss to combine. Add eggs, halfed or quartered. Season to taste.

* If using quail eggs, boil them separately.

This salad can be served straight away as a warm dish or you can cool it for 45 minutes. I usually serve it with different dressings according to the time of the year.

Winter Dressing

3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves

Beat olive oil and lemon juice, until thick. Add mustard and thyme and whisk. Pour over the warm salad. Serve immediately.

Summer Dressing

1 egg yolk
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
50 grs unsalted butter

In a food processor, beat egg york, lemon juice and salt, until thick. Brown the butter (do not allow to burn). Add the butter to the egg mixture and blend. Serve separately. Keep the dressing in the refrigerator before using it.

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DB#15 or Some Things are not for Granted

I was born in a land where lemon trees grow on their own. Everybody there has a relative, a friend or a neighbor with a lemon tree in the backyard. My parents have a beautiful exemplar that every year gives us tons of sweet bright yellow lemons. They still live in sunny Alentejo (in south Portugal), I live in Lisbon (centre) and my brother moved to the north of the country a while back. Last month, we were chatting on the phone and he said in a shocked tone: you'll never believe what I bought today... Oh well, try me, I said. A lemon - he almost shouted. I bought a lemon! At the time, I laughed out loud but now thinking about it, I don't remember buying lemons myself - I always get them from my parents and keep them through out the year.

Two months ago, I read about the Daring Bakers and couldn't resist to such a funny concept - one single recipe, many bakers, so different results. Yes, I joined the group. Why? Because I want to learn. And I want to be challenged - I want to be taken from my comfort zone! And I would be lying if I didn't say I've joined for the fun - hell yes, girls (and a few talented gentlemen) just want to have fun!

Overly excited about the stunning (and difficult) Yule Log baked for Christmas by the DBs, I was looking forward to my first challenge. I couldn't stop thinking of what recipe our hostess Jen, from The Canadian Baker, would choose. When I read Lemon Meringue Pie, I immediately thought: Piece of cake! Having tons of lemons to use when they're in season, I've made more Lemon Curd jars in my lifetime then I remember and baked LMP at least a few dozen times. In fact, I had just baked a LMP for new year eve when I read about Daring Bakers January challenge. The recipe was quite different from the ones I tried over the years - Alice Waters' recipe being my all time favourite - and when fellow DB reported runny fillings and a few difficulties about the crust and the meringue, I was a little worried but still pretty confident. I did my homework, took notes about hints given by experienced DBs, checked a few measurement conversions to my metric minded self and got to work.

Lemon Meringue Pie
from "Wanda's Pie in the Sky" by Wanda Beaver
Daring Bakers Challenge #15: January 2008

Lemon Meringue Pie
Makes one 10-inch (25 cm) pie or 6 tartlets

For the Crust:
175 grs - 3/4 cup (180 mL) cold butter; cut into ½-inch (1.2 cm) pieces
250 grs - 2 cups (475 mL) all-purpose flour
50 grs - 1/4 cup (60 mL) granulated sugar
1/4 tsp (1.2 mL) salt
1/3 cup (80 mL) ice water

For the Filling:
2 cups (475 mL) water
200 grs - 1 cup (240 mL) granulated sugar
60 grs - 1/2 cup (120 mL) cornstarch
5 egg yolks, beaten
60 grs - 1/4 cup (60 mL) butter
3/4 cup (180 mL) fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp (15 mL) lemon zest
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract

For the Meringue:
5 egg whites, room temperature
1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) cream of tartar
1/4 tsp (1.2 mL) salt
1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) vanilla extract
150 grs - 3/4 cup (180 mL) granulated sugar

To Make the Crust:
Make sure all ingredients are as cold as possible. Using a food processor or pastry cutter and a large bowl, combine the butter, flour, sugar and salt.Process or cut in until the mixture resembles coarse meal and begins to clump together. Sprinkle with water, let rest 30 seconds and then either process very briefly or cut in with about 15 strokes of the pastry cutter, just until the dough begins to stick together and come away from the sides of the bowl. Turn onto a lightly floured work surface and press together to form a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 20 minutes.

Allow the dough to warm slightly to room temperature if it is too hard to roll. On a lightly floured board (or countertop) roll the disk to a thickness of 1/8 inch (.3 cm). Cut a circle about 2 inches (5 cm) larger than the pie plate and transfer the pastry into the plate by folding it in half or by rolling it onto the rolling pin. Turn the pastry under, leaving an edge that hangs over the plate about 1/2 inch (1.2 cm). Flute decoratively. Chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Line the crust with foil and fill with metal pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes, until golden. Cool completely before filling.

To Make the Filling:
Bring the water to a boil in a large, heavy saucepan. Remove from the heat and let rest 5 minutes. Whisk the sugar and cornstarch together. Add the mixture gradually to the hot water, whisking until completely incorporated. Return to the heat and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. The mixture will be very thick. Add about 1 cup (240 mL) of the hot mixture to the beaten egg yolks, whisking until smooth. Whisking vigorously, add the warmed yolks to the pot and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in butter until incorporated. Add the lemon juice, zest and vanilla, stirring until combined. Pour into the prepared crust. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming on the surface, and cool to room temperature.

To Make the Meringue:
Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC). Using an electric mixer beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar, salt and vanilla extract until soft peaks form. Add the sugar gradually, beating until it forms stiff, glossy peaks. Pile onto the cooled pie, bringing the meringue all the way over to the edge of the crust to seal it completely. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden. Cool on a rack. Serve within 6 hours to avoid a soggy crust.

And now you ask: was it runny?

Unfortunately yes, as you can see, but I may have an explanation.

My thoughts on the challenge
- The crust is great! It's crunchy, tasty and very easy to work. I used a food processor to mix ingredients, careful not to over work it - when rolling out the dough it was just perfect. I'll use it in the future for other pies as well, as it's much simpler to make then my usual recipe.
- The reason why the filling was a bit runny is probably because I undercooked it. After reading a lot about cornstarch thickening point and how overcook it would reverse that ability, I think I was too careful not allowing the cornstarch mixture to boil - it probably needed a little more heat... Lesson here: do not try too hard and trust your culinary instincts!!
- The meringue was a nice surprise. I used medium eggs (the recipe doesn't provide any orientation about size) and the same quantity of vinegar instead of cream of tartar (which I couldn't find). It was a nice meringue, with the right sweetness for my taste.
- My overall feeling is that this recipe gives a tangy filling, the meringue is very nice (not too sweet) and the short-crust makes a perfect bottom for the pie.

Will I try this recipe again? Yes, because I'm stubborn! I need to understand what I've done wrong. (Will post the update asap) Would I recommend it? It's a fine recipe once the little details come together. I wouldn't recommend it above Alice Waters, The Art of Simple Food lemon curd recipe but as said the crust and the meringue worked fine for me.

I'm a Daring Baker. A Daring Baker!! Hoo-ray!


HHDD#17 - Oh excitement!

My first Hay Hay it’s Donna Day! I have wanted to take part ever since I first read about it - coincidentally at Joey's lovely blog 80 Breakfasts, who's hosting the event this month. I had been charmed by Donna Hay from the very first time I set an eye on her cookbooks - it was the beginning of something good that changed my relationship with food. Her simple yet exquisite recipes, always accompanied by outstanding food styling and photography had me from the first moment. I had decided to take part of HHDD's when I came across her magazine (issue 35) in my favourite stand. What an eye candy! It was an old issue but I wasn't to complain - never before had I seen such beautiful magazine in Portugal! And as Donna Hay won't accept subscriptions for my country, that was quite a finding.

I used Donna's pizza crust recipe from Issue 35 (I had to! I'm so in love with the magazine). For topping, I had this fixed idea of pears with Gorgonzola cheese. Just because this flavour combo kept haunting me since I had a marvelous salad a few months ago in London. My great new magazine featured Pancetta as 'a must have ingredient' - I was willing to try it too. So far I had selected pears, Gorgonzola and Pancetta. Good. But as I would find out, Donna doesn't have any sort of pizza with such ingredients. That's when I called Bon Appétit for help. I didn't exactly follow a recipe (yeah, as if that comes as a surprise...) but took some inspiration from here. The overall result was tasty (not to mention pretty) and I absolutely loved the way all flavours came around.

Pear, Pancetta and Gorgonzola Pizza with Walnut Pesto and Spinach

Pizza Dough
from Donna Hay magazine Issue 35, p.79

Serves 4*

1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1/4 teaspoon caster (superfine) sugar
3/4 cup (6 fl oz) lukewarm water
1 1/2 cups (225 grs/8 oz) plain (all-purpose) flour, sifted
1/2 teaspoon sea salt flakes
2 tablespoon olive oil
Semolina to dust (original recipe doesn't call for this step but I find it essential so the crust won't stick)

Place the yeast, sugar, and water in a small bowl and stir to combine. Set aside in a warm place for 5 minutes or until bubbles appear on the surface. Place the flour, salt, and oil, and make a well in the centre. Add the yeast mixture and stir with a butter knife until a dough forms. Turn out on to a lightly floured surface and knead for 5 minutes or until smooth and elastic (it took me 10 minutes). Place in a lightly greased bowl, cover with a tea towel, and set aside for 30 minutes or until it has doubled in size. Divide dough in two equal parts.

* Makes enough for a couple of pizzas for 2 persons or 4 individual pizzas. I've frozen half the dough. Directions: when kneading is done, prepare any dough you want to freeze. In a small bowl, add some olive oil. Roll the dough ball in the oil and place into a freezer bag. Freeze immediately. The day before you want to make pizza, remove frozen dough from the freezer and into the refrigerator to defrost overnight. Follow recipe from here.

Preheat the oven to 180ºC (355ºF). Place a pizza stone in the oven to heat. Press dough onto a large baking sheet generously dusted with Semolina, and roll out to 2-3 mm thick to form a circle. Sprinkle some Semolina on top.


Serves 2

For the walnut pesto:
3/4 cup walnuts
3 Tbsp olive oil
3 Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

4 slices Havarti cheese
4 slices Pancetta
1 pear, halved, cored, thinly sliced
1/2 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
6 medium fresh spinach leaves and steems

In preheated oven, toast nuts on a baking sheet until brown, about 5 minutes. In a food processor, place nuts, add olive oil, honey and cilantro. Blend until nuts are finely chopped. Season pesto to taste. If necessary add extra olive oil to desired consistency.

Steam the spinach in a coriander above a pan of boiling water, until slightly wilted. Remove from the heat and press out the excess liquid. Set aside.

Spread pesto over crust, top with coarsely diced Havarti cheese. Lift the baking paper and pizza onto the preheated stone. Bake until bubbly and golden, about 12 minutes. Remove baking sheet and pizza from oven (carefully, you don't want to get burned!). Place pear and Pancetta slices, top with crumbled Gorgonzola. Sprinkle with pepper. Bake for extra 3 minutes to allow cheese to melt. Remove from oven, tuck in spinach and keep warm for a couple of minutes, so flavours can come together.

note: I've returned the pizza once again into the oven after placing the spinach. I won't do it in the future, as I find it unnecessary.

Et voilá
! Here you have my pizza-nality!!


Comfort Food

Soup is definitely my comfort food. It brings this sense of home, it reminds me of my grandma and my childhood. I grew up watching my grandma run a family kitchen where no one could set foot if it wasn't to eat. The reason why she'd make everything in a heart bit was that she had full control of food, kitchen and family members. Her soups (as most her food) were no fuss, savoury and delicious - it took me years to understand why other kids wouldn't like soup because I always thought that every soup would be like grandma's. When I had to decide which one would represent better my comfort food, Potato Cilantro Soup came easily to mind. It's both simple and tasty and cilantro is my all time favourite herb.

Potato Cilantro Soup

Serves 6

4 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
1 large onion
1 medium turnip
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 garlic glove, chopped
6 cups vegetable stock or water
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 cup cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped

Peel and dice the potatoes, the onion and the turnip. In a large stockpot, heat the olive oil over a medium-high flame. Add the onion and the garlic to the oil and sweat until they are softened, about 3-5 minutes. Add the potatoes and the turnip and stir well to prevent sticking. Add the stock. Season to taste. Bring the soup to a simmer and cook until the potatoes and turnip are soft, about 20 minutes. Add cilantro and remove from heat. Blend in a food processor until smooth. Season if necessary.

My grandmother would garnish it with chopped boiled egg, which I also did but added some Parmesan as well and tried a different option with chopped cilantro and sausage, for my carnivore hubby.

This Potato Cilantro Soup is my comfort food recipe for the 2008 Comfort Food Cook-off, hosted by Eve. But what do people call comfort food? If you're as curious as I am, go have a look at Garden of Eating and find out what people call comfy!


Potato, you say?

Yep. Tender Potato Bread! Last November, whilst surfing food blogs, I came across the Daring Bakers. My first thought was What on earth are the Daring Bakers? I'll tell you more about those guys one day but let's move on with the story. Everybody was baking a tender potato bread - I read and read all the wonderful experiences and the tricky moments and drooled with the beautiful breads. Tanna from My Kitchen in Half Cups chose the recipe from Home Baking: Sweet and Savory Traditions from Around the World, a book by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. And what a nice choice!

Original recipe can be found here.

Makes a large loaf and a foccacia

My notes:
. I used about 200 grs of mashed potatos. I'm definitely a rookie so I just went with the beginners.
. The dough is incredibly sticky but once you conquer it, there's no bigger joy!
. I really liked the way the bread turned out - the crust is superb!
. I made a foccacia - my first foccacia!

For the focaccia:
Flatten out the dough to a rectangle about 10 x 15 inches with your palms and fingertips. Transfer the focaccia to parchment paper. Drizzle with olive oil, add chopped black olives, sun-dried tomatoes and red onions (thin slices) and sprinkle with dried basil. Cover with plastic and let rise for 20 minutes.
Place a baking stone on a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 200°C.
Dimple the bread all over again with your fingertips. Leaving it on the paper, transfer to the hot baking stone. Bake until golden, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a rack (remove paper) and let cool at least 10 minutes before serving. Coarse sea salt makes a really nice topping.


Simple, yet elegant

I love easy cooking. That's why I admire Mark Bittman, aka The Minimalist - he can be surprising in the way he prepares easy, fast, yet elegant dishes. But frankly an egg is just an egg! Nevertheless, there are one hundred different ways to cook an egg and it goes well with almost all sort of vegetables and cheese. My sweet, lovely husband was kind enough to forward me The Minimalist; The Simplest Egg, Yet the Most Elegant. And how I loved it! At the same time, Taste Italia featured a similar recipe with mascarpone. That sealed the deal.

Baked eggs with Mascarpone and Spinach

Adapted from Taste Italia, January 2008

Serves 3

3 free-range organic eggs
3 Tbsp Mascarpone (about 60 grs)
100 grs spinach
15 grs unsalted butter, softened
little nutmeg
salt and freshly ground black pepper
fresh cilantro, chopped

Pre-heat oven to 180ºC. Steam the spinach in a coriander above a pan of boiling water, until slightly wilted. Remove from the heat and press out the excess liquid.
Butter the inside of 3 ramekins. Divide spinach between the ramekins and dust with a little nutmeg. Crack an egg into each ramekin and season to taste, then add a dolop of the Mascarpone.

Pop the ramekins in a roasting tin and pour the boiling water into it, making sure it reaches up the sides of the ramekins. Cook for 8-10 minutes. I've added some fresh chopped cilantro to serve.


Salmon on the run

Pesto works like a charm with any kind of pasta. That's nothing new. What I was yet to find out was how easy Pesto goes with oily fish. This is a really quick way to prepare salmon, and the result is most impressive - colorful, elegant and very tasty. I've served it with Rosemary Toasted Baby Potatoes and Spinach Mash.

Stuffed Salmon Fillets
Adapted from Annabel Langbein, Cooking to Impress without Stress

Serves 2

2 boneless, skinless salmon fillets (about 150 grs each)
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 Tbsp lemon juice

2 Tbsp homemade Pesto
I Tbsp toasted pine nuts
2 Tbsp chopped black olives
2 Tbsp sesame seeds to sprinkle

Using a sharp knife, cut a thin slash on the top of each salmon fillet. In a small bowl, combine pesto, pine nuts and black olives and stuff about 1 Tbsp mixture into each slash. Carefully, put stuffed salmon fillets in a baking tray covered with parchment paper.

Preheat oven to 220ºC (425ºF). Season fish with salt and pepper and squeeze over lemon juice. Sprinkle sesame seeds over both pieces of salmon. Bake for 8 minutes or until just cooked through.

Serve salmon with a spoonful of vinaigrette.


Holy chestnuts!

Chestnuts: I'm a sucker for those little things. Chestnuts are overly popular in Portugal - around Lisbon, street sellers have them roasted on open fires all over the city, from early Autumn till now. A short while before Christmas, some friends gave me a huge pack and it sat in my kitchen for most the season, without any spare time to take care of those beauties. Chestnuts can be roasted in the oven with salt, eaten straight away or used to cook. Just a few days ago, I finally spend a 'funny' morning roasting my chestnuts, removing coats and making them ready to freeze. In the meanwhile, I've cooked us this spicy chicken for lunch.

Curry Chicken with Chestnuts

Serves 2

1 small onion
2 Tbsp organic tomato paste
12-14 chestnuts
1 garlic glove
1/2 tsp Red Thai curry paste (adjust to your taste)
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp yogurt
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 Tbsp raisins
2 small chicken breasts, cubed
1 cup chicken broth or water
salt and black pepper pimenta, to taste

In a food processor, chop onion and garlic with tomato paste. Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan. Add onion, garlic and tomato paste mixture to pan and stir often, about 2 minutes. Stir in curry paste and chestnuts. Mix in cubed chicken and season to taste. Stir for 5 minutes. Add chicken broth; bring to a boil. Lower heat, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes. When broth resumes, stir in yogurt and raisins and half cilantro leaves, finely chopped. Remove from heat after a couple of minutes, add lemon juice and remaining cilantro. Serve with boiled green beans.


A cake fit for a King & Pay It Forward

Today, we celebrate 'Day of The Kings' and Epiphany. According to the Bible, it's the day when The Three Kings meet Jesus. Upon meeting him, the Magi hand over gifts - three highly symbolic gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. Apart from deep religious meanings, it's a moving sharing moment. In Portugal, January the 6th is mostly seen as the end of Holidays and it's not a very festive day. However, King Cake is traditionally served on this day but also very popular throughout the Christmas season.

Pay It Forward

Paying it forward, what a great concept! I can’t think of a better way to keep the holiday spirit now that it's finished. I've got this idea from Michelle of Culinography, who got it from Kristen of Dine and Dish, who got it from Sandi of Whistlestop Cafe and so on. Here's how to participate:

“I will send a handmade gift to the first 3 people who leave a comment on my blog requesting to join this Paying It Forward exchange. I don’t know what that gift will be yet and you may not receive it tomorrow or next week, but you will receive it within 365 days, which is my promise! The only thing you have to do in return is pay it forward by making the same promise on your blog.”

Isn't it cool?! So, if you would like to take part, just leave a comment. ;) And now on to the recipe!

King Cake (Bolo-Rei)
Adapted from Eric Treuille e Ursula Ferrigno, Bread

2 small or 1 large cake

100 grs crystallized cherries (or candied peel), chopped
50 grs raisins
50 grs pine nuts
1/2 glass Oporto Wine
600 grs (4 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
125 ml (about 1/2 cup) warm water
2 tsp dry yeast
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
100 grs (1/4 cup) caster sugar
100 grs butter (3/4 cup), softened
3 eggs

12 crystallized cherries
50 grs raisins and pine nuts (or candied peel)
2 Tbsp light brown sugar
2 Tbsp water
(remaining Oporto Wine)
milk to glaze
icing sugar for decoration

Soak chopped cherries, raisins and pine nuts in Oporto Wine, at least for 6 hours (or best overnight).

Dissolve the yeast in 125ml of tepid water and leave for 5 minutes. In a large bowl, combine the flour with salt - make a well in center of flour and pour in dissolved yeast. Gently fold some of surrounding flour into pool of yeast to form a soft paste in center of well. Meanwhile, cream the butter and sugar with vanilla extract. Add the eggs one by one, mixing well between each addition. Incorporate butter mixture into flour mixture and continue bringing in sides to form a soft dough. Knead the dough well, it should be smooth and elastic. Add macerated fruits and knead to distribute evenly. Smother the dough in a little flour and cover with a clean cloth. Place bowl in a warm draft free area, and let rise until doubled in size, for about 1 hour.

Once dough has doubled, punch down and let rest for 5 minutes. If you're making 2 small cakes (like me), divide into 2 equal parts. Using your fingers, open a hole in the centre of each ball. Cover with a towel, let rise again for another hour, until doubled in size. Glaze the dough with milk and arrange the crystallized cherries, raisins and pine nuts on top of the ring (push raisins and pine nuts a bit, so they won't fall as the dough rises). Bake at 180ºC for 45-50 minutes or until golden.

Place remaining Oporto Wine in a small sauce pan and add a little water and sugar, mix over stove until incorporated and a bit liquid, so it is easy to brush on finished ring. After removing the cake from the oven, gently brush top and sides with this mixture. Sprinkle with icing sugar.