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Loving our French neighbours …. but not the cold wind along the channel!

23 Feb

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).

Carpaccio (4)

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.

Beachy Head (3)

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.

Beachy Head (4)

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!

 

Arroz Caldoso con Cangrejo – or Holidays, Romance and Crabs

7 Feb

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.

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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.

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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)

  • The meat from 2 cooked crabs (white and brown) which will weigh about 260g – although you can use raw too but will need to cook them first
  • About 1.2l of fish stock made from the crab shells and any other bits of fish you can beg from your fishmonger and with a few strands of saffron added
  • 400g paella rice
  • 1 small onion finely chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 200g chopped, peeled tomatoes (if using tinned, and why wouldn’t you, make sure to drain them first)
  • A splash of brandy
  • Salt & Pepper
  • A lemon, quartered
  • Some finely chopped parsley to serve
  • Olive oil

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.

Arroz Caldoso con Cangrejo 006

(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.

Morrete de Setas – Mushrooms with Potatoes

24 Jan

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”!

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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)

  • 1 kg peeled and cubed potatoes (cut into small cubes)
  • About 600g of thickly sliced mushrooms (I used a mix of Shitake, Chestnut and Forestiere Mushrooms)
  • Olive oil for frying
  • 1 level teaspoon of sweet pimentón
  • ½ level teaspoon of hot pimentón
  • A pinch of saffron or turmeric (in Spain though you find they usually use food colouring)
  • About 60g of stale bread
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • About 240ml water
  • About 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
  • Salt and pepper

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.

No cooking…but some patchworking and quilting

11 Jan

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!

The Road to Health Quilt (5)

It was made entirely by hand apart from the strips I added to widen it and the first run round of the binding.

The Road to Health Quilt (11)

The strips are green, not blue as they look in the photo – and just look at that binding…thanks Kate!

 

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!).

 

Dodgy Big Stitches next to slightly less dodgy and a bit smaller stitches...

Dodgy Big Stitches next to slightly less dodgy and a bit smaller stitches…

There are plenty of wonky lines, but hey, that adds to the charm. And I’m sticking with that (wonky) line.

The Road to Health Quilt (10)

For details of the quilt pattern and fabric, take a look here and here.

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”?!

The Road to Health Quilt (1)

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…

A Christmas Wish For You All

22 Dec

Wishing the Peace and Joy of Christmas to you and all your loved ones

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…and Health and Happiness from our home to yours for 2015

See you in the New Year!

Another House Renovation Finished – Breathe In, Breathe Out…

23 Nov

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.

Feb 2014 (19)41 Red Rd Completed 22 Nov 2014 (23)

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.

Feb 2014 (30)41 Red Rd Completed 22 Nov 2014 (30)

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).

Feb 2014 (10)41 Red Rd Completed 22 Nov 2014 (11)

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.

Feb 2014 (16)41 Red Rd Completed 22 Nov 2014 (1)

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.

Feb 2014 (5)41 Red Rd Completed 22 Nov 2014 (15)

Time now to rest and focus on ourselves. Time for good food, and sleep and long walks on the beach.

 

Patchwork Progress

13 Nov

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!

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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.

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The next step is to assemble the quilt block and then make the quilt “sandwich” and start hand quilting…

Mixed Bean, Pork and Sausage Hot Pot

28 Oct

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!3 bean & sausage potaje (1)

 

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)

  • 500g mixed dried beans, soaked overnight
  • 6 fresh chorizo sausages
  • 4-6 slices of pork belly
  • A length of black pudding (or morcilla or boudin noir) about 25cm in length
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ teaspoon of saffron (or turmeric)
  • 1 teaspoon of smoked pimentón
  • Salt (smoked if you can get it)
  • Water

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

We need more wine, the bottle is almost empty!

We need more wine, the bottle is almost empty!

or Cod with Butterbeans?

Smoked  Cod & Butterbean Stew (1)

Roast Chicken

20 Oct

Yes, a delicious chicken rubbed in za’atar, stuffed with a lemon and roasted with onion and perfect potatoes cooked in goose fat. So what? I hear you say, nothing special about that. Well, a roast chicken can mean only one thing – AN OVEN!!

Sunday Roast 007

Yes, although the full refurb of our new home is still only in the planning stages, the dismal cooking arrangements have moved into the slightly more modern era with the purchase of a very nice, temporary, second-hand oven.

Hurrah, almost normal service will be resumed. If I don’t smoke us out (no extractor) in the meantime…

A Juicy Pear

6 Oct

After the doom and gloom of our dismal cooking arrangements, I wanted to reassure you that all is not quite so bad Chez Chica and Big Man.

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We have inherited a beautiful pear tree in our new home. Well, it’s in the garden of course, not growing in the middle of the sitting room. Which would make day to day life a little awkward.

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It’s a tiny Victorian back garden but we still have the original wall and it’s south west facing, so it’s warm and sunny.

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Obviously, being without an oven, pies and crumbles have been out of the question but we’ve enjoyed sharing them, eating them with cheese, cooked and served with thick cream and some have been cooked and frozen for a rainy day. It’s raining today, I think we might be eating pears…

(For those of you with proper kitchens, pop over to Roger’s blog and be inspired by this beautiful recipe.)

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