We’ve been cooking something

I know it’s been a while since my last blog post but it was for a good reason.

June was the busiest month ever. I had to go to Porto three times, organised a great private Fado concert, some filigree workshops, wonderful lunches by the ocean, and a lot of fun tours, of course.

The greatest new is, ta da, I’ve just launched Lisbon Cooking Stories, and I couldn’t be any happier.

What’s Lisbon Cooking Stories? I’ll tell you more about this project soon but meanwhile you can follow us on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

I’ll be back soon!

And 2014th’s best custard is….

      Yesterday during the festival “Fish in Lisbon” it was announced the winner of 2014th’s best custard. This year the great winner was the pastry shop “Alcoa”, from Alcobaça, and here at LisbonStories we can’t wait for our next tour to Alcobaça, to try one.

     By now you’re probably confused: “I thought that the best custards could be found in Lisbon, in that famous pastry-shop in Belem?!”

     “Pastéis the Belém” can only be found in that famous pastry shop as it is said that they’re made with a secret recipe, invented by the monks who lived in St Jerome monastery, right by its side. Belém is indeed the name of the district.

     “Pastéis de Nata”, same thing than custards, but different name, are the ones that can be found everywhere else in the world. They taste just like the first ones, with the exception of the name… and the secret.

     Is there such a big difference? Honestly, no. Maybe the ones in Belem are crunchier as they’re served warm, but that’s about it. I love them, but after trying the ones served in Aloma, the 2013 winner, I couldn’t decide which is my favorite.

    Well, let me try Alcoa’s custards and I’ll tell you my final opinion!

Sunday Lunch- Rice with Beans

When Julia , a former client, wrote to me one of these days asking for a recipe of Rice with Beans my mouth immediately grew water! Rice with Beans is actually a case of a long love affair for me.

This is a wonderful yet very simple recipe mainly eaten in Lisbon. Some people say that it were the African emigrants from our former colonies in Africa- Angola,Mozambique,Cape Verde, Guiné Bissau and São Tomé- who first introduced the recipe probably as far as 400 years ago. Both beans and rice were inexpensive items and mainly what there was to eat.

Rice with Beans nowadays is definitely a part of Lisbon’s gastronomy. It is used as a side dish for cod fritters (pataniscas or bolinhos de bacalhau) or for a Portuguese tempura style treat we call Peixinhos da Horta which is just green beans in a batter, deep fried. All of those are possible to find either in any restaurant in Lisbon or at any Portuguese home.

My home is no exception, so when Julia said she would like me to send her my own private recipe, I was so thrilled that besides emailing her the recipe I rushed into the kitchen and started cooking! The result was indeed fantastic and no main dish was needed as Rice with Beans is also quite filling on its own.

Want to try your own version? Here is a basic recipe; you let me know how it goes in your kitchen back home.

     Ingredients:

- 1 half onion chopped

- 1 clove of garlic chopped

- 1 can (250 grams) of boiled butter beans (or any another fleshy type)

- 2 table spoons tomato pulp or 2 ripe tomatoes cut into chunks

- Olive oil

- Handful of fresh coriander (or cilantro) stalks included

- 250g rice – can be risotto type rice (I use the can of the beans as a measurement)

- Some dried cumin (amount depends on taste)

- Water

- Salt to taste

Preparation:

     Fry the onion and the garlic in olive oil (I use a lot, but I love olive oil) in a pan until golden.

Add the tomato pulp or tomatoes, salt and the dried cumin.

Add the rice and let it fry for 5 minutes while stirring.

Add the beans (also add the liquid it comes with in the can) and stir.

Add enough water to cover the mix and let it simmer until it softens, stirring once in a while.

When boiled, turn the heat off and add the chopped coriander and stir just before serving.

Indulge yourself!

Cod fish fritters with Rice with beans

Portugal Restaurant Week

     If you love to go out and try new restaurants, new flavors and gourmet foods, you’re coming to Lisbon during the right week.

     Portugal restaurant week is here and until next Sunday the best restaurants in Portugal will be available at a settle price of 20€ per person (drinks not included). This is a great opportunity to try expensive restaurants, where one can’t go every day. Besides, 1€ per person will be donated to charity, which makes this event even more special.

      To check this long list of restaurants and to do your reservation just follow this link. You’d better hurry up: this promotion only lasts until March the 24th and some restaurants are already full.

    If you decide to give it a try please don’t forget to leave a comment and tell us how it was!

The good side of a rainy day

     On Saturday the wine course was great. Can’t believe how many things I’ve learned and how useful they’ll be. Vines, casts, and most importantly: how to match (or “marry” as Silvia would say) wine with food.

      On Sunday it rained all day. You know how disappointing it is to have a rainy day when you’re touring: you can’t walk around, sit outside nor take good pictures. On the good side, you don’t need an excuse to do a pub crawling and sample different wines and dishes.

    The cheeses were great and same thing about the smoked ham, the sausages and the roasted kid. However, if I needed to choose a winner, I think I’d pick the “lagartos” – “lizards” in English. Don’t worry, I’m not eating reptiles.

“Lizards” are a pork cut, from the pigs back. It’s very tender and tasty but the pieces actually have the shape of lizards. Check the picture, don’t they look like lizards?

Sorry for the crumbles on the dish but you can’t imagine how good the bread was!

“Alheira” – a sausage plenty of history and flavor

     There was once a time, about 300 years ago when the Inquisition – an extremist section of the Catholic Church – dictated the rules around here. Strangely enough, even in what food was concerned.

     One of the tastiest sausages in Portugal was invented by the Jews during those difficult times as a way to escape the clutches of the Inquisition. Since their religion wouldn’t allow them to eat pork, they would be easily identifiable by their pursuers by not preparing the -very common at the time- smoked pork sausage.

     They found a clever resource: they replaced the pork with a huge variety of other meats, such as veal, rabbit, turkey, duck and chicken sometimes partridge, tucked into richly seasoned dough of wheat bread. Garlic played an important part flavor wise as it would cleverly disguise the lack of pork if any investigation would be carried through.

     The result was “Alheira”: a mouthwatering soft sausage that would eventually become popular even among Christians. Today we can find “Alheiras” made with different ingredients, including pork, as Christians didn’t resist to adding the usual porky touch to the recipe.

     Alheira can be easily found in almost any restaurant menu. Served with a fried egg on top, french fries and salad or vegetables, it can be either fried or grilled.

How to order a cup of coffee in Portugal

     Most Portuguese people start their day the same way: with a shot of strong, black coffee, the famous and beloved “café” or “bica”. “Um café se faz favor” (one coffee please) might be the first words of the day, but they’ll be repeated.

      What do we drink? Our regular coffee is what’s generally called expresso: a shot of strong black coffee, normally with sugar. Obviously, we have some variations, the most popular among them being “garoto” (small espresso cup); or even an “italiana” for a really short coffee.

     Bigger sizes? A “meia-de-leite” (is a large cup, half is milk and the other half is coffee); a “galão (3/4 coffee, ¼ of milk); and “abatandado” is for American coffee. Just coffee? No. Normally we have a little pastry to go with it, but that’s a subject big enough for another post.

      Besides the energy boost, there’s also the social side. “Hey, do you want to have a coffee?” might be the easiest way to break the ice with a new work colleague or to catch up with a friend. Are you staying for a few days in the same place and want to meet someone? Go for coffee at the same place everyday: by day 4 the waiter will serve you without even asking what you want.

      What about coffee to go? There’s no such thing. Even if you’re having a quick cup of coffee on your way to work, it’s very likely that you’ll have a quick chat with the waiter or with the person standing next to you. Weather, soccer and breaking news are normally the topics.

Évora with picnic lunch and wine tasting

    Yesterday I had the most amazing day with Carol and her family. They are a happy family of 6 composed by her parents, her and her husband and two kids, aged 8 and 14. They all wanted to visit Évora but while her husband wanted to visit a winery and try some wines, her parents wanted to see the country-side and her kids wanted to do something fun.

    In order to please everyone we visited Évora in the morning and once they were feeling hungry we drove towards a vineyard where between cork-oak trees and endless vineyards there was a wooden table set with regional products. Cheeses, hams, chicken pies, regional sweets and liqueurs, bread and jams, as well as fruit composed the menu. While parents could eat and taste some regional wines and liqueurs, the kids could run around vineyards and scratch pieces of cork from the trees.

    The picnic was provided by a local company of wine experts, so, all the products were fresh and we didn’t need to worry about cleaning the table or so. Once we finished eating we visited the winery where everyone could learn about the wine production and its complicated process. Since the kids were very interested in cork, we also visited a cork-factory in a really small town, far from everything, where they could learn more about the cork process and see how things are made.

By the way, here’s the tour link. If you’re looking for a romantic tour this can be an idea.  Imagine you and your partner having a picnic lunch on your own, tasting great wines in an idyllic landscape on the shade of cork-oak trees and vineyards…

5 dishes that you should try

    We all know that one of the best ways to get to know a country is taste its traditional dishes and flavors. Portugal is not an exception and despite its small dimension, traditional dishes vary a lot from the south to the north. While the south prefers lighter meals, the coast has mostly fish and the north eats mostly meat.

    Bacalhau: codfish is considered our most famous and traditionaldish and can be served in 365 different ways, one per each day of the year. Bacalhau com Natas (with milk cream), Bacalhau à Brás (smashed with smashed french fries and onions) and Bacalhau com Broa (roasted with corn bread on top) are the best choices.

    Grilled fish: a great option for those summer lunches when you don’t want to feel stuffed and too lazy to walk around. Normally is grilled on the coal, which gives it a special flavor, and comes with boiled potatoes and vegetables. May sound too simple but together with some green wine will be unforgettable.

    Carne de Porco à alentejana: is a traditional dish from the south. Consists of fried pork cubes accompanied with fried potatoes and clams. The combination may look strange but definitely tastes good. Lemon and persely are perfect to add more flavours.

    Alheira: a sort of sausage invented by the Jews to pretend they were eating pork, includes different meats, bread and herbs. Comes with french fries and an egg on top.

    Arroz de marisco: a rice stew with lots of different sea food, clams and crab. In a good one you should have a bad time to find some rice on it. Normally one portion is enough to feed one family.

 

Vinho Verde – Green wine

After my last article about grilled sardines, I definitely have to talk about the wine that should be drunk with them: the green wine. “Vinho Verde” is produced in “Minho” region, a DOC region in the north of Portugal, known for its cold, rainy weather and fertile lands with granite soils. Due to the scarcity of the land and the frozen rime that falls during the night, these vines are cultivated in height, in tunnels or being used as fences.

Green wine is known for being be light, crisp, aromatic, with a light prickle of fizz and sometimes with a touch of sweetness. Should be served chilly and accompanies grilled fish, salads, chicken dishes and seafood. It’s perfect for those warm days when you just feel good when sitting outside, chatting with friends, when you’d normally have a beer.

 Despite its lightness, don’t let it trick you: this wine doesn’t go down, goes straight up to your head and you’ll only feel its effect when you try to stand up. Don’t worry though: it just makes you feel happy and alive, with no headaches nor hangovers. «

This wine is called “green” because the grapes are harvested before they’re done. Though everyone associates Green wine with a white wine, in the north the most popular is the red one, made of red grapes from Green wine casts. It’s confusing, I know. Personally, I like the white “Vinho Verde” better.

Regarding the prices, it’s very reasonable. In a normal restaurant a bottle costs from 10 to 18 euros, and can be bought for a lot cheaper in a supermarket. Since it’s not a “noble” wine no wine expert would ever say that its favorite wine is a green. Glad I’m not an expert: I simply LOVE it!

The stamp that all Green Wine bottles must have to proof its qualityShare your thoughts with me and this post with your friends!

 

Here are the famous sardines!

Today I was doing this tour with Julia and Todd, a happy couple from the USA. Though they just had one day in Lisbon, they really wanted to seize it. We started with a tram ride towards Lisbon’s castle, visited the castle, walked trough the labyrinthine streets of Alfama, tried some port wine, bought some hand-painted tiles and sat for lunch before going to Belém area.

Right, lunch! As you may know, one of Lisbon’s most famous dishes is the sardines. They can be eaten from May until August (the months without an “R”), grilled, preferably accompanied by boiled potatoes, grilled green peppers, salad and some green wine as well. The funny thing is that since sardines used to be a poor’s people dish and hey must be grilled on the coal, you can’t find them in elegant restaurants. To eat sardines you can either follow your nose (the smell of grilled sardines can’t pass unnoticed) or look for a “normal” restaurant, preferably outside, preferably one of those with the special dishes written in a paper-towel, hanged on the wall. These are the best ones and of course that we visited one of these.

While Todd had grilled squids and I had “Frango no churrasco” (roasted chicken, I’ll write about it soon), Julian made me proud and ordered sardines, with Green wine. I’ll write about green wine soon, I promise, but by looking at Julian’s happy face, you can see that it was very good! :)

Share your thoughts with me and this post with your friends!

The best red wine of “Concours Mondial”

The best red wine of the year, in the world, is going to be an Alentejo wine. The question is: which one?
Results come out next Monday and I’ll let you know as soon as they come out!
Every year, the Concours Mondial de Brouxelles gathers wine critiques from about 48 counties, to try different wines and choose the bests in the world.
This year’s edition happened in Guimarães and 8397 different samples were submitted, from 52 different countries. Divided by groups of 5 persons, the jury tries 5 groups of 10 wines, every morning, and grades them from 0 to 100 points. Wines that receive from 84 to 86,9 points will receive the silver medal; gold medal will be given to wines with more than 87 points but less than 92.4 and the great gold medal will be given to those with more than 92.5 points.
Just as a curiosity, Portugal is in the 4th place as the country which sent the biggest number of samples. Out of the 520 samples, 88 were primarily made out of the national cast “Touriga Nacional”, normally blended with other casts. Still, Portugal is the country with the biggest variety of casts sent to this world competition.

Well, results come out next Monday and I’ll share them with you as soon as they come out. I’m really curious to know which one is going to win this prestige prize, but also wondering if it’s winery does guided tours: I’d love to you take there on a tour… and a wine tasting, obviously.

Text based on Andre Ribeirinho’s article for “Publico” newspaper.

5 things that are different (on the table)

After all these posts about food I decided to clear some doubts and talk about 5 things that are different, on the table.

Appetizers: When you sit at a restaurant they’ll bring you immediately some bread, olives and butter. After you’ve order they may also bring you wonderful small appetizers to eat while you wait. Though they may seem a courtesy, they may cost you almost as much as the meal itself… and they also fill you almost as much as the meal itself!

If you don’t want any of those, just don’t touch them or tell the waiter that you don’t want them right away.

My fish wasn’t clean: in Portugal you can eat excellent fresh fish everywhere. The only thing that may look weird for you is that the fish never comes clean. Why? Portuguese people love to eat fish and also to know which kind of fish it is, and how fresh it is as well. This way, we like to clean it ourselves and refuse to eat just a fillet. At pricey restaurants they may clean it for you, but they’ll bring the cooked fish first, show it to you, and then clean it in front of you.

Eat without rushing: for us eating out is meeting with friends and talking about everything. We like to take our time during the meal and restaurant owners understand this. Don’t get surprised if the service isn’t really quick or if they don’t bring the check just after you finished to eat. If they would rush us out of the place no one would go back there.

Tipping: for us, tips are a reward for a good service and not part of the waiter’s wage. There’s no rule but we tip about 10% of the check, which may double when the service is outstanding. Since it’s not mandatory it’s never included in the bill.

Taxes included: In Portugal all prices MUST include taxes (vat, for instance) and when they don’t, they have to state that.

Read more about Eating habbits here.

What do you think? Share your thoughts with me and this article with your friends!

5 Meals a day and become Portuguese right away

Though you don’t see that many people in the streets, Portuguese people eat a lot: generally we eat 5 times per day. Here they go:

Breakfast: a caffèlatte and a sandwich or cereals with milk. Is eaten at home and quickly as everyone is always late for work.

Mid-morning snack: about 10.30 or 11am it’s time to stop what you’re doing and ask your colleagues if they’d like some coffee. It lasts about 15 minutes and is a moment of relax and socializing between working colleagues. Almost everyone drinks an espresso and eats one pastry.

Lunch: about 1pm everyone is already hungry and it’s time for lunch break. It lasts about one hour and is composed by some bread, vegetables soup, the main dish (rice and meat or fish and potatoes), desert or fruit and another expresso. This isn’t “the” big meal of the day: we have two big meals per day and love it this way.

“Lanche” or afternoon snack: is mandatory for kids but most adults eat something before dinner too. About 6pm it’s time to bite another sandwich and drink some tea, or have some milk with cookies.

Dinner: at the end of the day (8 or 9pm) the family spends some time together and sits for more than one hour by the dinner table. In terms of food, it’s just like lunch but since the day is over, everyone takes their time to eat and talk.

When we have a dinner out with friends it never starts before 9pm and lasts up to two hours.

Supper: not everyone, but since we never go to bed before midnight, some people still eat some crackers or a piece of fruit before going to sleep.

What do you think of our eating habits? How many times per day do you eat? Share your thoughts and share this post with your friends!

Read more about our gastronomy here.