Spring is most definitely here and our pear tree, despite having had a massive haircut, looks like it is going to deliver again this autumn!
I’m already thinking about Pear Cake!
I make our bread several times a week. I enjoy the process and now that I’m using my starter Hercules, Son of Priscilla (thanks Celia!), my loaves are going from strength to strength. I confess that most of the time I make my usual sourdough loaf, starting the process the night before and baking early evening of the next day.
Other times I use Celia’s overnight sourdough recipe which gives fantastic results and I took on board her tip of dusting the loaf in semolina flour for a crunchy crust. Clearly, as she’s my bread making heroine/guru and I am her keen student/bread making stalker, I also made some teeny tiny loaves (like she did) using some small loaf tins I had bought to make cakes in but had never used. They turned out wonderfully and were the perfect size for a hugely filling lunch roll.
The last few weeks have given me time too to do a little experimenting and for Easter Sunday my father requested a loaf with whole eggs baked into the top of the dough, as this is what his mother used to make when he was a boy. I Googled Calabrian Easter bread and most of the recipes led me to make a slightly sweet bread, gently flavoured with anis and made using eggs and milk. The least said about the egg dyeing the better, but everyone enjoyed it. We all felt that it was like milk bread or pan de leche as it’s called in Spain and would probably prefer to eat it as a breakfast or tea time bread. I’m going to experiment making it again in small rolls so once I’ve perfected it, I’ll post the recipe.
The most recent experiment was to use my sourdough starter to make a whole grain loaf. I wasn’t really sure what sort of results I’d get as wholemeal flour tends to rise more slowly than white flour and give a heavier bread. Combined with a slow rising, heavy sourdough loaf I was a little concerned I’d end up baking the cornerstone of our next building project, but using a mix of a flour which contained wholemeal, wheat flakes and bran with a strong white bread flour, I got fantastic results. The bread was malty, tangy and chewy and delicious spread with butter or drizzled with olive oil. I followed the same process as my usual loaf, but didn’t add olive oil. I added an extra knead and a slightly longer bake.
For the sponge
For the dough
The night before you want to bake (or fit this into your usual baking routine), mix the ingredients for the sponge, cover and leave overnight or for about 8 hours. Don’t forget to feed your original starter to replace what you took out!
The next day, add the remaining flour and salt and in a mixer with a dough hook (this is quite a wet dough) knead for 10-12 minutes until the dough looks stretchy and elastic.
Turn it into a large, oiled bowl and cover with oiled cling film. Leave it to double in size, mine took about 5 hours, but it will be different for everyone. Turn out of the bowl onto an oiled surface, knock it back, form it into a ball and put it back into the oiled bowl and cover again. Leave to rise again, this should only take a couple of hours, and turn out onto a lightly floured surface. I didn’t use semolina but feel free to use whatever you like best.
Knock back and shape either onto a round or put into a floured banneton (which is what I did). Cover with a tea towel and leave to double in size.
Just before you are about to bake, turn your oven on to heat at top “volume” with an oven tray inside if you are going to turn out from a banneton. Once the oven has reached its temperature, carefully take the tray out and turn your loaf onto it. Slash with a very sharp or serrated knife, put it in the oven and turn the temperature down to 150C (Fan) and bake for about 55 minutes until nicely browned and it sounds hollow when tapped on it’s lovely wholemeal bottom.
Drive yourself crazy for a few hours while it cools with the wonderful smell of your freshly baked loaf and enjoy whichever way you most enjoy bread!
Life has been getting in the way generally the last few weeks. It hasn’t left much time for posting or visiting your blogs, but I’m playing catch up this week.
Last week we managed a speedy hop over the channel. Well, under the channel, to be more precise as we travelled via the Eurotunnel. We spent a night in Boulogne-Sur-Mer and stayed in the old town – very picturesque but I can’t get the photos off my phone to show you. We also stocked up on lots of wonderful wine, cheese and other delicious goodies like all good Englishers on a “booze cruise”. So many wonderful things to choose from and I had to smile as I bought some freshly sliced beef carpaccio – thin slices of raw beef which I served over a salad with griddled asparagus and drizzled with lemon oil. (If you want a chuckle at my not so successful attempt at making octopus carpaccio, take a look at this post).
I was smiling because in England a few weeks ago with some pals we went to a Steak Grill and one of us ordered a burger which they wanted served rare. “Sorry” we were told “local restrictions only allow us to serve minced beef when it is cooked through”. Couldn’t they rely on the quality of the beef they buy and their suppliers we asked? “Legislation” we were told. So a finger up to whoever in England decides how we should eat our meat, and a big round of applause to our French cousins for letting us make our own choices.
In an effort to work off some of the cheese calories we had consumed, yesterday we took the pups off to nearby Beachy Head for a walk.
Perhaps not such a good idea to visit this beautiful headland with amazing views across the south coast on quite such a windy day, but (as my granny used to say), it certainly blew the cobwebs away!
Any of you who have followed my blog since way back when may recall a trip we made a few years back to the north of Spain. To Galicia and Asturias more precisely. An insanely beautiful part of the country, lush and green. Lush and green because, like in Scotland or the English Lake District, it rains a lot. And rain (and rain) it did. Which left us plenty of time for eating and drinking. Always look on the bright side, I say.
I don’t know why it surprised us that it rained, even though it was only the tail end of summer, as holidays and special occasions are generally a complete disaster for Big Man and me.
Our anniversary falls on 11th November so aside from the fact a lot of folk are quite rightly marking a very solemn memorial to all those who lost their lives in conflict, it’s a dreadful time of year for good weather in the Northern Hemisphere. Christmas and Birthdays generally involve some sort of disaster or a member of the extended family falling ill so we’ve now accepted that we’ll not get ourselves too worked up over celebrations and holidays and just enjoy the everyday joys.
There is a point to all this reminiscing. Today I bought two cooked and dressed crabs at the local fishmonger intending to boil some potatoes, make a salad and call it lunch. Big Man began to talk about an amazing meal we’d had on our trip to the north of Spain. The rain poured down, the wind howled and the first hotel we stayed in was nice but miles out of town. After a long, long drive we decided to do something we rarely do and EAT IN THE HOTEL RESTAURANT. What a good decision that was. The food was incredible and we made the most of it, ordering their speciality of Arroz Caldoso con Bogavante (which translates as brothy rice with lobster) for our last night there. Why didn’t I make “brothy” rice with crab he asked? Why not indeed, so I did, and absolutely wonderful it was too.
If you have an earthenware cazuela to make and serve this in, use it (Celia, I’m talking about you!). It really makes a difference to the flavour and is more authentic.
Ingredients (to serve 4)
Gently fry the onion in a little olive oil until it is softened but not browned then add the garlic and cook for a minute. Add the tomatoes and cook gently for about 10 minutes and add the splash of brandy. Next add the rice and stock.
(A little reminder, if you’re making paella you’ll need 100g of rice per person approximately and for every 100g of rice you need about 210ml of liquid. For brothy rice you need the same amount of rice but 3 times the amount of liquid, so approx 300ml to every 100g of rice.)
Cook gently, half covered until the rice is almost done, add more stock if it’s drying out too much, then add the cooked crab meat, stir and taste and add seasoning if necessary at this point. Turn the heat off, cover the pan and let the rice rest for at least 5 minutes and to let the rice finish cooking. Serve with a little parsley sprinkled over and wedges of lemon to squeeze over the food.
This is a dish made with a few ingredients but which lets them shine, it tastes luxurious and decadent. Which made me think it would be good for a Valentines meal – very romantic. Unless you happen to be us and also have Valentine’s Disasters…but more of that in a few days.
If you want to see more of the North of Spain, do check out the links at the start of the post, which I hope you’ll enjoy.
If like me, you are the sort of person who is not put off by strange translations into your native tongue of a dish you encounter on your travels, this one is for you. Coming across this dish in a small local restaurant near our mountains in Southern Spain, you’d probably read something like “Mushrooms to the wild, cooking with soft potatoes of the saffron dressing up in vinegar”. Or some such bizarre description.
It doesn’t even look that pretty, as the end dish is indeed “with soft potatoes” and has rather a look of mush about it. What you would be served with, however, is a dish with simple ingredients combined in a way you’ve probably never tasted before, and a flavour that makes you say “ooh, that’s so good…I really didn’t expect that”!
Around our neck of the woods (or Up Our Mountain), the most commonly eaten mushrooms are Oyster mushrooms. We have grown them ourselves in the past and Big Man would often come home with a crate of them for me to turn into dishes like Mixed Mushrooms with Cinnamon and Lemon or Braised Mushrooms. This dish is made across Andalucía but is probably known by other names outside of the radius of our local villages. Here’s our local version, the simplicity of the ingredients hides a wonderful combination of flavours. It is vegetarian/vegan and can be served alone as a tapa or starter, or alongside other dishes as part of a meal. A poached or fried egg is a wonderful accompaniment.
Ingredients (to serve 6-8 as a tapa, 4 as a starter or 2 as a hearty main course)
You will need 2 frying pans (or you will need to cook the potatoes and mushrooms separately. In one pan with about ½ cm of oil to cover the bottom, slowly cook the potatoes until they are soft and just starting to brown at the edges. Mix occasionally as they cook. You don’t want them to be crispy like chips.
In another pan, add a little oil, the mushrooms and some salt and cover with a lid. Slowly braise the mushrooms until soft and releasing their juices. The potatoes and mushrooms both take about 20 minutes to cook.
Meanwhile, put the bread, water, garlic, spices and 1 tablespoon of vinegar into a blender jug and blend (I use a hand blender) until you get a mix which resembles slightly runny porridge.
Drain the potatoes from the oil and add to the mushrooms and pour in the bread/water mix. Cook gently for about 10 minutes until it all thickens up (you may need to add a splash more water). Just before serving, taste and season and add a further tablespoon of white wine vinegar. Think of the resulting taste in the same way that you would use lemon juice to “lift” a dish.
Serve with plenty of crusty bread and if you’re feeling a bit cheffy, some chopped parsley on top makes it look pretty. But don’t tell the local village ladies I said that as they’d be horrified at any such nonsense.
So, the quilt was completed the day before Christmas Eve. A special present to me and Big Man made by my own fair hands. And the terrible thing is that now I’m hooked!
It was made entirely by hand apart from the strips I added to widen it and the first run round of the binding.
Ok, so it’s not perfect and I had to restitch the initial quilting as it was so awful. But I did keep one line of it in, next to the final attempt to show myself that practice makes better (but not yet perfect!).
There are plenty of wonky lines, but hey, that adds to the charm. And I’m sticking with that (wonky) line.
And now that I’m hooked, I just couldn’t help myself when these fabrics on sale called out to me…was it Oscar Wilde who said “I can resist everything except temptation”?!
A big thank you to both Kate from talltalesfromchiconia (especially her quilt binding tutorial) and Evie (check out the link for her Chateau Quilt) over at Pendle Stitches for their advice and encouragement, especially when I started the hand quilting of the quilt top – I was all set to give up, but thanks to their kind words I pushed on and gradually became addicted…
Oh it’s been a long, long road with this one. But like the very first project we undertook together, we love this house. Little secrets emerged from behind layers of wardrobes, original flooring came back to life and today our lovely new tenants moved in.
For those of you who are interested, I’ll let the photos tell the story of a little 2 bedroomed (it was 3 bed when it was originally built but with only an outside loo and no indoor bathroom) Victorian mid terraced house.
The previous owners had lived there for 60 years, the lady (her daughter) who sold it to us told us that her parents had originally rented it then managed to buy it with a mortgage. She (the daughter) was born and bought up there, her mother lived out her final years as a widow in the house and the daughter’s son and his children all had strong memories of spending time with their grandparents (and great grandparents) there.
Yesterday the previous family came to look over the house before the tenants moved in. I was anxious. We bring properties up to a modern standard (putting in central heating, efficient plumbing and decent kitchens and bathrooms).
We try to revive old floorboards if we can and replace them if we can’t. We paint our houses white so that whoever buys or rents them can make them their own. But they look very different from when we start and I was worried it might upset the previous family.
Fortunately there were tears of joy and smiles of relief as they saw fireplaces uncovered and restored that they had previosuly forgotten existed. Admiration for the floors and chuckles at the improved outside loo.
Time now to rest and focus on ourselves. Time for good food, and sleep and long walks on the beach.
I apologise for the lack of cooking and recipe posts recently. I have made some new dishes, a wonderful beef casserole a few days ago but the photos – not so good…
Anyway, some of you know that I am a crafty Chica (of the creative rather than sly kind) when I’m not cooking or renovating. My latest project is a patchwork quilt, which almost follows a pattern and is being made by hand. Time for a big thank you to a new blogging pal, Kate over at talltalesfromchiconia, who has an amazing blog full of beautiful projects and a lot of quilts! She has been giving me, a humble novice quilter, some really great tips – thanks Kate!
So, just to give some “technical” details for anyone interested, the pattern is based on one called Garden Walk from the book Jelly Roll Dreams compiled by Pam and Nicky Lintott. I used a Moda Jelly Roll (I think the colour was called Holly Wishes which turned out to be quite Christmassy!) plus extra fabric.
The blocks are now completed but I want to make the quilt wider to properly cover our King Size bed, so will be adding a contrast of sashes vertically between the rows of four blocks.
The next step is to assemble the quilt block and then make the quilt “sandwich” and start hand quilting…
When in England we get to enjoy a wide variety of different foods that we wouldn’t normally have access to in Spain. Sometimes though, we long for the taste of our other home. If we lived in London, it would be easier to get hold of some of the more authentic ingredients to recreate certain dishes, outside of London it’s a bit trickier. Sometimes, London or not, you can’t get hold of them at all.
Our beloved Fabada, from the north of Spain, is one dish that it’s particularly tricky to replicate exactly without the traditional beans and smoked meats. No matter, we make do and end up with a delicious variation of the original. Fusion cooking? No….we’re not that trendy! Make do and mend? You bet!
This is a dish you need to plan in advance (especially if you are going to use dried beans which will need soaking overnight). It tastes even better the day after you’ve made it, so is a great one to prepare ahead, or use the slow cooker.
In Spain, this style of dish using dried beans is called a Potaje (pronounced po-tah-heh) which is similar to the French word Potage and the old English word Pottage. All three dishes seem to have much in common with each other as well as the name – do check out the links if you have time.
Ingredients (to serve 6 as a main course)
Cover the soaked beans with plenty of cold water and bring to a fast boil. Boil hard for 10 minutes, skimming off any froth that appears on the surface.
Now add the rest of the ingredients except the salt, and bring back to the boil. You can now either put the whole thing into a slow cooker and cook on low for about 8-10 hours, simmer on the stove top for about 2 hours or cook on low in the oven for 4 hours. Make sure you use a dish which has a lid.
When the cooking time is up, test the beans. They should be soft and creamy, even a little mushy. Season to taste. When you are about to serve, put the pot back onto the stove top (transfer to another pot if you used the slow cooker) and return to a fast boil for about 5 minutes. The liquid will turn from a clearer state to cloudy, and thicken at the same time.
Slice the pork belly and black pudding into smaller pieces and serve each person with beans, a chorizo and some pork belly and black pudding. A final drizzle of fresh, fruity olive oil over each dish will really lift the flavour. A perfect dish for a hearty lunch on a cold day.
If you like this kind of dish, why not check out this dish of Pork Shanks with Giant Beans
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