Archive | March, 2012

Back to the 70´s – Prawns in Lettuce Cups

30 Mar

Getting Groovy with the Prawns

Do you remember the 1970s? Well, I am sure some of you do, even if you were only babes in arms.  I was a young teenager at the end of the 1970s but it was a time in London when great changes were afoot in the world of food.  The height of sophistication at the time for a dinner party was probably something along the lines of prawn and avocado cocktail, steak with pepper sauce and Black Forest gâteau for dessert. And nothing wrong with any of that I say…but the 80s were soon going to herald the advent of Nouvelle Cuisine (or really tiny portions) and strange mixtures of ingredients such as Loin of some Obscure and Almost Extinct Creature Marinated in a Gooseberry and Guinness Jus. Well, you know what I mean.

Having watched a DVD of Abigail´s Party (I wish I knew how to insert video clips), I was clearly feeling nostalgic and decided to go a bit retro with my peeled prawns. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow and accept you´re getting old…

Ingredients for 4 people as a starter

  • Two lettuce hearts (use 8 of the bigger outside leaves and use the rest for salad)
  • 1 cup of peeled prawns, cooked and cut in half if large
  • 2 hard boiled eggs, chopped (not too finely)
  • 1 ripe avocado (chopped into small cubes)
  • 1 tablespoon of chopped parsley
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Half a cup of Marie Rose sauce (I made mine using 3 tablespoons of tomato ketchup, 3 tablespoons of mayonnaise, 1 heaped teaspoon of horseradish sauce, 1 teaspoon of Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce and 1 tablespoon of sweet chili sauce)
  • Pimentón to taste

Simply mix all the ingredients together and spoon into the lettuce leaves.  Sprinkle with hot or sweet Pimentón.

Now, put some groovy 1970s dinner party music on the built in Hi-fi, slip into a glamorous kaftan and enjoy the evening….

Sopa de Picadillo – Chicken Soup Spanish Style

28 Mar

Cloudy is good, clear is bad!

The first time I ate a bowl of chicken soup in Spain, I was a little surprised by the way it looked. I was staying in my rented Cortijo in the middle of nowhere, with my lovely, crazy landlords living in the adjacent house and popping in on me at weekends to make sure I was fine. In true Spanish Mama style, my landlady often bought me things to eat, just to make sure I was going to stay nice and well rounded.

One lunchtime she came over with a bowl of chicken soup. I was surprised because in the UK a good chicken stock is clear, transparent…and highly valued for these attributes. What I had been presented with was cloudy, almost a yellowy white in colour. It smelt amazing and the bowl was packed full of other goodies too. Pieces of chicken, fine noodles, chopped hard boiled egg and jamon and some pieces of fresh mint. I was also instructed to squeeze lemon juice into my soup.  Then off she trotted, happy to have kept her (not so) starving tenant alive to see another sunny Andalucían day.

Of course, once I had tasted it, I was in love. Such deep chicken flavours, quite a salty (but not disagreeably so) taste and the tang of lemon and mint. The name of the soup, Picadillo, comes from the verb Picar. This means to chop finely or into small pieces. Hence the final additions of hard boiled egg and jamon.

This is not a recipe, more a method. Spanish chicken stock is made with whole joints of chicken (I use thighs and legs usually), salted pork bones and salted pork belly with plenty of fat on it.  If you can´t get the last two ingredients use a couple of pork ribs and a piece of normal pork belly or a thick slice of pancetta.  Add a couple of bay leaves, about 4 cloves, 1 or 2 dried chilies (optional) and cover with water. I also add in a few carrots and sticks of celery, but this is not typical. If you have not used salted bones, add salt to taste and check again at the end of cooking.

Now boil it fast for about 10 minutes, this is when the water will turn cloudy, then turn down the heat and simmer for at least an hour. Strain the stock and leave it to cool, you will then be able to remove the layer of natural fat from the meat which will set on the surface.

Remove the bones, bay leaves, cloves, chilies and discard. To serve a typical Sopa de Picadillo, boil up the stock, add some fine angel hair noodles and the chicken (pork belly too if you used unsalted)  and cook until the chicken is warmed through and the noodles are cooked. Sprinkle over hard boiled egg and jamon (or use lardons or pancetta) and if you have some fresh mint to infuse in the soup it really adds a special touch. Don´t forget the squeeze of lemon too!

Like most chicken soups, it is claimed to be the cure for all ills, but you don´t need to be feeling under the weather to enjoy it.

Baked Cherry Cheesecake

26 Mar

A slightly sad looking final slice of cheesecake....

I am sure we all have “go to” recipes for times when we are in a hurry, or just want to return to an old favourite.  I adore baked cheesecake and have been using an adapted version of a BBC Good Food one for several years now.
When I found out that I had been asked to make a dessert for lunch with friends, I got out my cream cheese and eggs and quickly got to work. Apologies for the photo, I forgot to snap it in all its glory before we attacked it!

Ingredients

  • 12 crushed digestive biscuits (graham crackers)
  • 50g melted butter
  • 600g cream cheese
  • 2 level tablespoons of flour
  • 175g sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 150ml whipping cream (or heavy cream)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 1 jar of cherry jam plus I used some of my cherries in brandy (drained)
  • 1 sachet of flavourless gelatine or vegetarian substitute

Heat the oven to 180º C or gas mark 4.  Mix the crushed biscuits with the butter and press into a springform tin. Bake for 10 minutes and leave to cool.

Beat the cream cheese, flour, sugar and eggs together then add the cream and vanilla essence and then any fruit filling (not the jam).  Blend gently, pour into the tin and bake for 45 minutes.  It will still be slightly wobbly in the centre but leave to cool out of the oven.  It will continue to cook slightly.  I have to confess mine always cracks, I don´t know if there is a way around this – I´d be happy to learn!

For the topping you can either just cover with fruit or make a jelly fruit topping.  I did this by adding a sachet of powdered gelatine to about 4 tablespoons of cold water.  In a small pan warm the jam until it starts to bubble then pour it over the gelatine and mix well until all the granules have dissolved.  Leave it to cool down until almost cold and starting to set then pour over the cheesecake (still in the tin).  Refrigerate for at least 2 hours and remove from the fridge an hour before serving to reach room temperature.

Up the Mountain in the Development Kitchen – Home Cured Pork

23 Mar

Ok, so I don´t really have a development kitchen and most of the actual experimentation went on in a small blue plastic bucket in my storage shed, but I have successfully cured (in brine) a piece of pork for the first time.

Even tastier than the first time I made it

You may recall a while back I showed you a recipe for Boiled Gammon. At the time I talked about the fact that it is impossible to buy it here in Andalucía but that I wanted to figure out how to make it at home.

Well, I turned to my old pal Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and he had some great information in his River Cottage Cookbook.

I started with a small piece of loin of pork that weighed 800g as I didn´t wanted to waste a large piece of meat if it all went horribly wrong.  I decided to play around a little with the flavours, amounts are flexible.

Ingredients

  • Pork (your choice of weight and cut)

For the brine

  • Water
  • Dark beer – 2 bottles
  • 1 kg Salt
  • Treacle or molasses – I used half a cup of Miel de Caña (or you could dissolve brown sugar in with the salt and beer)
  • Crushed black peppercorns and cloves (I used about a tablespoon full of each)

I boiled the salt with the beer and spices until it was dissolved then stirred in the molasses and added enough water to ensure the liquid would cover the meat.

The pork was put into a new (and then sterilised) bucket and covered with the brine once it had cooled completely. I had to put a plate with a weight on it to keep it from floating out of the water.  This was then left in a cool dark place for 3 days.  The recipe suggests this as a minimum period per kilo with a four day maximum period per kilo. You should note that your meat will not be a pretty pink colour like the brined hams bought in shops unless you use something like saltpeter or a chemical additive to keep the colour.  I didn´t do this, as I prefer not to.  For me, it´s all about keeping it natural and tasting great.

Pork after brining

When the required number of days have passed, drain the meat (discard the brine, it should not be reused).  Bring it to the boil in a pot of fresh water, drain it again and then cook.  I cooked it in the same way as previously, this time adding a couple of dried chillis to the stock and some celery.

When I posted the previous recipe my best friend called me to ask what the heck I had been doing serving the gammon with parsley sauce when it should have been onion sauce.  I stand corrected.

This time I made a delicious onion sauce by gently frying a medium onion in a little olive oil until it was soft and transparent. Then I added 2 tablespoons of flour and cooked it slightly then stirred in a cup of the meat cooking stock and half a cup of milk.  Add salt if it needs it (mine didn´t) and pepper and serve alongside the meat and vegetables.

Any leftovers can be made into a soup, but more of that another day…I´m off back to the Development Kitchen. We keep the wine in the shed.

Spring is Sprung – New Life in the Huerto

21 Mar

Spring is sprung,
De grass is riz,
I wonder where dem birdies is?
De little birds is on de wing,
Ain’t dat absurd?
De little wing is on de bird!

Apologies, but I do enjoy nonsense and nursery rhymes! Yesterday at 6.14am, Spring officially began here in Spain.  Unfortunately someone forgot to tell the weather and the warm temperatures we have been experiencing dropped overnight.

No matter, we have been putting some early plants into our veggie patch, but Big Man has been creating mini polytunnels to protect them on cold days and nights.

In about a week we´ll be eating our first broad beans, and the onions are also coming on nicely.

We planted a totally ridiculous 280 cloves of garlic, and are now planting lettuce between the rows.  Big Man will cover them with netting or the little sparrows will think they´ve been invited to a Michelin starred restaurant.

We planted a first “wave” of tomatoes, peppers and chard.

The tomatoes are already producing flowers.

The chard is almost ready to start picking.

But helpers are thin on the ground here. Better to sleep in the warm sun room.

Luna says "Just five more minutes and then I´ll come and help"

Maybe I´ll get up and help.

Did someone mention digging?!

Maybe not, I´ll just put my head down and no one will notice I´m here.

Think I´ll just stay here and wait until my fur grows back after the home haircut Mum & Dad gave me...

And a final piece of “newness”.  John From the Bartolini Kitchens, very kindly sent me a fantastic tutorial on how to insert the Flag Counter I now have right at the very bottom of my blog page. If you scroll down, down, down you will see that it is now starting collect flags from the countries that have visited my blog. Very interesting and a lot of fun to check up on. Maybe one day I´ll get to visit more of them.  Thanks John, my brilliant long lost Italian cousin!

Tortilla de Patatas – Potato Omelette

20 Mar

This was a two egg omelette made in a small, deep frying pan

I can´t believe that I haven´t posted my version of this Spanish classic.  Probably one of the most famous tapas dishes in Spain, simple, economical and delicious. Can be served hot or cold. There is always a great debate about how to cut the potatoes.  Ask 5 people and you´ll get five different answers – the choice is yours.

Ingredients per person

  • One large potato peeled, halved and cut into thin (but not wafer thin) slices or chunks
  • Half a medium onion, finely chopped (optional)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon of milk
  • ½ teaspoon of cornflour (optional)
  • Salt
  • Olive oil for frying

Put the potatoes (and onion if using) into a deep frying pan with straight sides if possible. This helps with turning the tortilla.  Choose the size of pan according to how many people you are cooking for – you want the tortilla to be deep, so a smaller diameter and a larger depth works well.  Cover with plenty of olive oil (this can be drained and reused) and use a low heat to braise the potatoes until they are tender, turning them over gently a few times during cooking.

Drain the potatoes and save the oil. In a large bowl beat the eggs and milk together and if you want a thicker, spongy texture to your tortilla, add the cornflour to a little of the milk then mix in with the eggs.  Season with salt then add the potatoes to the eggs and mix gently. The secret to a successful tortilla, I´ve found, is to have a high quantity of “filling” in relation to egg.  The egg binds the potatoes (or whatever vegetable you choose to use) together.

Pour a little oil into your frying pan and when it is hot, turn the heat down low, add the eggs and potatoes and cover with a lid.  This now needs to cook very, very slowly until it sets in the middle and the bottom starts to brown.

Turn the tortilla using a large plate and then slide the uncooked side into the pan. Timings will depend on how large your tortilla is.  If you are unsure about flipping the tortilla, pop the frying pan under a hot grill for a few moments to completely set the top, then flip it.  Once it is browned nicely on both sides, turn out onto a plate and enjoy it hot or cold.

For a less authentic but less calorific version of this dish, use potatoes cooked in their skins. Peel and slice or cut into chunks and then warm them through in a very little oil before adding to your egg.  I use this method more often than the “oil braising” method to help in the waistline war, and no one has noticed the difference!

For another version, take a look at my Potato and Brocolli Tortilla here.

Pinto Bean “Paté” or Dip

18 Mar

I make a lot of soup, especially vegetable soups using whatever I have available.  To make them more filling, I often add lentils, pearl barley or beans. Today I fancied making a mixed plate of tapas to eat before lunch and had paté cravings.

Instead of making a meat paté I took about a cup of dried beans that I had soaked overnight  (the other half of which were destined for the soup pot) and made them into a tasty, garlicky paté which we served with pickled courgettes, our home cured olives, pickled onions from Cook, Eat, Live Vegetarian´s lovely recipe, salami made by a neigbour and some dried oven baked rolls.

To make one bowl of paté cook about a cup of your favourite dried beans until tender and drain (or use a can of beans).  I cooked them with a few sticks of celery and a chopped carrot for extra flavour.

Put the cooked beans into a blender jug and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the juice of half a lemon, 2 cloves of garlic, salt and pepper and a small bunch of fresh parsley.  Blend using an immersion(stick)  blender or a food processor.  If the texture is too thick, taste and then add either extra oil, lemon juice or water depending on which flavours you want to dominate. Adjust seasoning if necessary.

Quick, easy, tasty and economical.  Pass the bread please!

Setas Asadas – Fire Roasted Oyster Mushrooms with Poached Eggs

17 Mar

I have mentioned previously that we have some mushrooms growing, intentionally I might add, in our garage.  It was a slow start, but we are now getting regular supplies of oyster mushrooms to enjoy.

After a week away, they had gone a little crazy, and some of the ordinary mushrooms which we are also growing had turned into monsters which I´ll chop up and use in sauces or soups.

Back from London with not much in the fridge, we had to “make do and mend”, as my grandmother used to say.  The fire was blazing merrily, so we put some of the larger mushrooms onto our parilla (which is a grill which you can sandwich things between) and cooked them over the embers of the fire. You could do this over a barbecue or even under the grill (for grilling I´d recommend you brush them lightly with oil first).

Once they were done we seasoned them with Maldon sea salt, freshly ground pepper then drizzled some olive oil over and added a little squeeze of lemon juice. With a softly poached egg and a plate of jamon we enjoyed a simple supper but felt that we had dined like Kings!

PS. Our dogs Luna and Alfi stayed with our lovely neighbours while we were away. Our dogs love being there and they get loads of walks.  It seems this week they discovered the joys of goat manure and spent lots of time playing in it, which was much less fun for our neighbours who had to deal with two very stinky dogs.  Alfi is now in need of a major haircut and they were both happily exhausted yesterday when we got them home.  I took this snap of them “recovering” from their week of fun whilst trying not to laugh too much at Alfi´s lack of energy to get either into or out of the bed.

Home Sweet Home

16 Mar

We´re back from a hectic but wonderful week in London, catching up with family and friends.  We were wined and dined and thoroughly spoilt, drank far too much wine, walked for miles and laughed for the entire week.

We ate broccoli grown in my parent´s London garden.

Best friend Ria made us an amazing Chicken and Leek Pie, and extra marks to her for cooking it in her sister´s kitchen as her heating and hot water weren´t working for a few days.

We spent a day walking through London.

Of course, we stopped for coffee to revive us.

We drank good old British bitter.

Cheers!

We helped our pals Donna and Craig “christen” their new home in style.

We had "Bolly" too - lucky us...hic!

Entertainment in their new home village, Lewes, was fun and quirky.

Check out those amazing sideburns!

We even managed to spend a few days down on the south coast combining business with a little relaxation.  Of course, we had to take a romantic walk along the seafront at night when a sea fog was making everything look very atmospheric. We were in St Leonard´s on Sea, where my parents have a holiday place, and also home of Promenade Plantings.

We spent a wonderful day with my parents walking around beautiful Hampton Court, one of Henry VIII´s amazing Tudor Palaces.

"Mamma & Papá Russo" - the Royal Elders of our family!

My favourite part of the Palace? Well, the Tudor Kitchens of course!

Peacock Pie anyone?!

And last night we arrived home, weary but happy.  Our case was packed with goodies….dressmaking patterns and fabric, antique carpentry tools, some vines from my father´s garden to plant here in Spain, salad seeds, a new mini baking tray… so much to look forward to.  And guess what?  When we unpacked, we found we had a stowaway.  Flat Ruthie has come to visit, so we´ll be enjoying some time with her very soon and cooking together!

Stowaway on Board!

Gnocchi in a Creamy Asparagus Sauce

5 Mar

I have previously mentioned my love of potatoes, and being a big fan of carbs, a plate of gnocchi really hits the spot.  Today we´ll be using a packet of ready made gnocchi, as this is a speedy dish that looks gourmet, and we all like those.

Would Madam like a lifejacket with her sauce?

The sauce is enough for four.  Of course, rather than save half for another day, we used it all and had our gnocchi swimming in a delicious creamy sauce.  Shame on us.

Ingredients

  • 1 packet gnocchi
  • 200ml of pouring or single cream
  • 2 tablespoons of milk
  • 1 bunch of asparagus
  • 2 tablespoons of soft blue cheese (optional but highly recommended)
  • Fresh parmesan for grating
  • Some chopped cooked lardons, bacon or jamon for sprinkling over the finished dish (or leave these out if you want to keep it vegetarian)
  • Seasoning

Start by finely chopping the asparagus, leaving the aside the tips.  Cook in salted water (not the tips) until tender and remove with a slotted spoon. Now cook the tips, drain and set aside, keeping warm if possible. You can always save the cooking liquid to add to vegetable stick or soup.

In a blender jug put the cream, milk, blue cheese (if using), asparagus (again, not those tips!) and plenty of black pepper.  Blitz until you have a smooth thick cream and put into a small saucepan.

Boil the water for your gnocchi, add salt, and cook until they float to the top.  While they are cooking, gently warm the cream sauce, taste and add salt if necessary.

When the gnocchi are done, drain and mix the cream sauce in, place into warmed serving dishes. Sprinkle over the asparagus tips and jamon or bacon (if using) and grate over some fresh parmesan.  Speedy, luxurious, delicious.

For some other wonderful suggestions of what to do with asparagus, check out RaeDi´s Pizza recipe here and Greg´s Lemon Asparagus here.

On Thursday Big Man and I are heading to London for a week to catch up with family, friends and food. My parents are probably one of the few families on the planet who don´t have internet, so although I may post again before Thursday, I won´t be able to read blogs or comment from Wednesday evening until we get back when I will do a big “catch up”.  Hopefully we´ll come home with lots of lovely foodie goodies and some good eating experiences to share with you all.

Update – I have added this recipe to Greenslove´s recipes, check out Linda´s link here at Savoring Every Bite for more info

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