My Portugal: Recipes and Stories by George Mendes (Author), Genevieve Ko (Author), Romulo Yanes (Illustrator)

Hardcover: 256 pages

Date of Publication: Oct. 7, 2014

Publisher: Stewart, Tabori and Chang; first edition.

My Portugal — F. R. Carlson

In the early years of my marriage, my dear wife and I wanted to take a focused European vacation for two weeks in early summer. We were stationed at West Point at the time. After some research, we decided that we wanted to stay in a European city and explore the around the city. It came down to Prague, Czech Republic and Lisbon, Portugal. The city we chose was Lisbon. We stayed for two glorious weeks near the Pombal Circle in downtown Lisbon.

The two things that I always remembered about the trip was the great weather and the great food. When we flew back, I always thought that if I ever wanted cuisine like this again I would need to come back.

Not True.

In My Portugal, George Mendes, chef and owner of Aldea, has offered the world (and me) a way to come to Portugal. This book brings back my memories of the ubiquitous Cod dish — Bacalhau — that we enjoyed in the downtown neighborhoods of Lisbon, to the seafood we had around Cascais, to the wine around Fatima. Mendes has pulled off a classic cookbook of this largely ignored and fantastic regional cuisine.

The book is part cookbook, part autobiography and part tour guidebook. It is organized by food type, but sub organized by region. An example is “Chapter 1, Salt Cod: Bacalhau,” the chapter has a dateline, a “placeline” and a series of photographs of the place. In this first chapter this date/placeline is Ourem, Portugal, a magnificent town north of Lisbon.

I found the organization excellent. However, that may be because I have visited most of the places in the datelines of the chapters. The context provided in the photographs brought back, for me, the tastes and the smells of eating a fantastic kid entree in Lisbon, Bacalhau in the beach resort of Cascais, and Salads in Obedios. If someone has not been in the country, the multimedia effect of the book may not be as effective.

I enjoyed the autobiographical content. Mendes description of his teenage years reminded me of my youth fixing up houses in Largo with my father. I couldn’t relate as well to the cooking lessons and the importance of organic foods that his uncle gave him, but I enjoyed those tales as well.

But back to the cooking part of the cookbook, one case of amnesia I had from my trip a decade and a half ago was the desserts. I joyfully found this reminder!

Chocolate Salami (Makes about 3 dozen)

Chopped bittersweet chocolate (66% cacao) 1 ½ cups (200 g)

Unsalted butter 11 tablespoons (5 ½ ounces/ 150 g), softened

Sugar ½ cup (100 g)

Pasteurized egg yolks 3 large

Dark rum 2 tablespoons

Butter Cookies (opposite) 3 ½ cups (300 g) ½-inch (12-mm) pieces

Skinless hazelnuts (optional) ¾ cup (100 g), toasted

—-

Melt the chocolate in the top of a double boiler or a heatproof bowl set over simmering water, stirring occasionally, until smooth.

Remove from the heat.

In a large bowl, whisk the butter until it is the consistency of sour cream, then whisk in the sugar until it dissolves a little.

Add the yolks and whisk until smooth.

Whisk in the warm chocolate until smooth, then the rum.

Fold in the cookies and hazelnuts, if using.

Refrigerate until a little firmer, about 30 minutes.

Transfer to a large sheet of parchment paper, dolloping the mixture in an 18-inch- (46-cm-) long line.

Roll into a 2-inch- (5-cm-) diameter log.

The writing style is easy to read, and the recipes are easy to follow. The design is excellent as are the photographs. That said, if you are into “food porn” you will likely be disappointed. The pictures in the book balance the content, which is roughly one-quarter autobiography, one quarter tour guide and one-half recipes.

The recipes seem a little basic in the instructions to help the totally clueless. I like that he did both metric and english measurement systems. However, there are no step by step instructions on what the right equipment to use at each step of the recipe is. For the foodie set, this is probably no big deal. For the utter novice (like me) this is not good.

The audience for this, I think, are people like me who were lucky enough to experience Portugal and foodies looking for a new challenge to cook. I also think that the book would appeal to fans of Mr. Mendes, a chef of some note.

I bought this book, and I am going to try to use it, to the fear of virtually everyone in my family that disaster will ensue.

Contents.

CHAPTER 1 SALT COD: BACALHAU

CHAPTER 2 THE SEA: SHELLFISH AND FISH

CHAPTER 3 PORK: FRESH AND CURED

CHAPTER 4 POULTRY: DUCK, CHICKEN, AND GAME

CHAPTER 5 MEAT: BEEF, VENISON, LAMB, AND GOAT

CHAPTER 6 SALADS, SOUPS, AND STEWS

CHAPTER 7 SIDE DISHES: VEGETABLES AND GRAINS

CHAPTER 8 DESSERTS

CHAPTER 9 BUILDING BLOCKS: STOCKS, SAUCES, OILS, AND SEASONINGS

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