Sunshine, Flowers and Beans

The English summer is unpredictable. Some beautiful days with perfect heat and a gentle seaside breeze. Then days of rain, wind and the thought that maybe, just maybe, we need to turn the central heating on.

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Then we hear from family in Spain that it’s in the forties and it’s too hot to even think, so we feel blessed and happy to be Down by the Sea with our English weather.

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Our runner beans are loving days of sun followed by heavy rain. Another positive for us and we’re enjoying the fruits (and flowers) of our little garden. I do miss our vegetable garden though…oh those tomatoes!

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Dinner the other night was a simple salmon en croute.  Roasted vegetables were cooled then placed on top of a tail fillet, wrapped in puff pastry, brushed with beaten egg and roasted for about 25 minutes.  Perfect with those beautiful beans.

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Happy summer to my northern hemisphere friends and happy winter to those in the south!

Slow Cooked Cuban Style Pork

Long slow cooked dishes usually make me think of the cooler months, but using the slow cooker means the kitchen doesn’t get all hot and steamy, and I don’t get all hot and bothered. And with a little planning, if you need to use the oven,  head out for a few hours to enjoy the sunshine  and come home to a delicious meal!

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I bought a shoulder of pork the other day, a not expensive cut of meat which goes a long way with a little crowd, or it can be used for a few meals when it’s just the two of us. I’d seen a few recipes for Cuban Mojo Pork which included the juice of citrus fruits like orange , lemon and lime and the fresh flavours appealed. I also recently discovered a lovely new blog, Iowa Girl Eats. Lots of lovely gluten free recipes for those that don’t/can’t eat gluten, and for others like me who can…just a lot of lovely,  beautifully photographed recipes! This dish follows  her recipe pretty much exactly (thank you Kristin!) and I can highly recommend it. We ate the dish, as she suggested with rice, guacamole and I made some spicy Black Bean dip. Lots of lovely leftovers too, so a win-win situation.

Ingredients (to serve 6 approx)

  • Pork shoulder  (about 2kg), skin removed
  • 3/4 cup chicken stock or water
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 cup each of lime and lemon juice
  • 1 red onion, finely sliced
  • 1 hot chili (cut open but left whole)
  • 1 whole head of garlic, cloves separated and peeled
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 or 2 teaspoons of dried oregano 
  • 1/2 teaspoon each of dried cumin and smoked pimentón 
  • 2 bay leaves

Put all the ingredients into the slow cooker and cook on low for about 10 hours. The meat should shred easily (like pulled pork) or you can leave it in chunks. I put the pork shoulder in whole but you can cut into  large chunks if it fits better into your pot that way.

If cooking in a conventional oven, I’d recommend cutting the pork into about four or six pieces, using a cup and a half of chicken stock and cooking on low for about 3 hours. Check the liquid half way through,  you may need to add more as you want the final dish to be juicy with some of the lovely sauce it creates to spoon over.

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Serve with whatever you fancy. I make my guacamole by mashing a large ripe avocado then adding in some finely chopped spring onion, a finely chopped ripe tomato,  finely chopped coriander and chili and seasoning.

If you enjoy slow cooked pork dishes, check out my Chinese Style Slow Cooked Pork.

PS. Am playing around with a “new look” on the blog. Let me know what you think, all criticism happily accepted! And if anyone knows how to add a “search” button to the top of the page, I’d love to know how…

 

Were we in Italy or Spain?

It’s hard to pick up blogging after a period of silence.  Is anyone still out there listening and reading?! Life once more wriggled and wiggled and got in the way but between driving to Spain, doing Spanish family stuff, driving back to England and doing Anglo/Italian family stuff we managed to keep smiling and getting on with things.

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Shortly after arriving in Spain Big Man celebrated a birthday and we are both most firmly of the opinion that all birthdays are worthy of recognition.  We had long wanted to visit an archaeological site near Seville called Itálica.  It’s an amazingly well preserved Roman City (although nowhere near as extensively excavated as Pompeii)  and birthplace of the emperors Trajan and Hadrian.  Bizarrely, few people seem to have heard of it. Even our Spanish family didn’t seem to know where we were heading off to.

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The amphitheatre is stunning and very atmospheric. Apparently the third largest in the Roman Empire at the time.

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Entry is free, which is wonderful,  and when we visited we felt as if we were almost on a private visit.

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And as for mosaics…heaven!

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Enjoy the photos,  it’s an amazing place. But don’t tell too many people or it will be crowded next time  we go!

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If you enjoyed this, take a look at a previous visit to a Moorish City we visited near Cordoba…

Ciao ciao

I’ve not written for a while, it’s been hard to find the words, so I’ll keep it simple and short. My very beloved dad, Papà to me, died on 24th February while on holiday with my mum in Spain. Born in Italy,  lived in England,  and died in Spain. A true European if ever there was one.

He was a wonderful man, a loving husband to my mum for over 53 years, a fantastic dad and a great son-in-law to my grandparents who shared a home with my parents for most of my parents’ married life. We had a service and a celebration of his life in Bexhill and shared laughter and memories with so many friends and family whose lives he had touched.  A wonderful tribute to him.

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FRANCO RUSSO

1935 –  2017

Now it’s time to think about the future, not with regret or fear but with some sadness, of course, a smile and many thanks for the person he was and the person he helped me to become.

I’ll be back soon…

 

 

 

 

 

Best friends, cookbooks and curry

Best friends who know too many secrets about you are worth holding on to. If they share a history with you going back to school days, consider yourself very lucky indeed. Especially if they also believe that you can never own too many recipe books. My best pal, Ria, does a grand job each year of fuelling my obsession with  cookbooks and Christmas or Birthday (and sometimes both…I’m not complaining) a new book will find its way to me and I’ll enjoy months and then years of experimenting with new recipes.

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We talk most days on the phone, which Big Man finds both incredible and hilarious (“what on earth were you talking about for the last half an hour?”…”oh, nothing much, this and that”). Our conversations invariably end with “so, what’s for dinner tonight?” and we’ll happily chat for a further 10 minutes about what we’re cooking, planning to cook, wishing we had the energy to cook, or what we took out of the freezer put by from when we were more organised with our cooking a couple of weeks back.

Lately, I’ve been cooking up a good few curries from my birthday present cookbook. Curries from all over the place and this chicken curry from Pakistan really was fantastic. Definitely dinner party quality, but also simple enough for a family meal. The description of the recipe explains that it was a Special curry because in the fifties and sixties,  if you were invited to dinner and served this, you would know the hosts had spared no expense in your honour because chickens were hard to obtain and expensive.  Luckily for most of us, this is no longer the case, but if your purse runs to it, buy the best you can.

Desi Murgh Curry – Special Chicken Curry (serves 4)

  • 4 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 2 large onions, finely sliced
  • 2 tsp each of garlic and ginger paste
  • 4 tomatoes, skinned and finely chopped (or use tinned, as I did)
  • 50g plain Greek style yogurt
  • 1 ½ tsp hot chilli powder (or more or less, to taste)
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 3 large cardamom pods (the recipe calls for black ones but I used green)
  • 6 cloves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 chicken approx 1.2kg, skinned and jointed (I used 8 skinned chicken thighs, bone in)
  • Chopped coriander to garnish

Heat the oil and fry the onions until golden brown, take your time doing this, it’s worth it. Remove the onions and when they have cooled slightly, grind them to a paste. I did this using my stick blender with a splash of water added to the mix.

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Add the ginger and garlic pastes to the oil and fry gently for a few minutes then add the tomatoes and next the yogurt. Cook for about 5 minutes then add the onion paste, the spices the bay leaf and a little salt.  Continue to cook gently until the oil separates out.

Put the chicken pieces into the pan, spoon the sauce over and add about 500ml of water. Cover the pan and cook slowly for about 50 minutes until the meat is cooked through and tender. You may need to add a splash more water so keep an eye on it.

Remove the lid, check for seasoning (adjust the salt if necessary) and continue to cook for a few more minutes without the lid until the oil separates out again.  Garnish with coriander, and serve. Don’t forget to call your best friend to tell her how good it was and you’re sorry there’s not a portion waiting for her in your freezer as you ate the lot…oops!

Mung Bean Dhal (9)

If a veggie curry is more your thing, hop over to take a look at my Mung Bean Curry.

Monkfish and mussels with a tomato and lemon sauce

January was a month for trying to eat a little healthier and lighter. Less meat, some fish and more veggies and pulses. This didn’t mean boring meals though and we finished off the month with a little luxury, treating ourselves to some monkfish. It is an expensive fish compared to others, but a little goes quite a long way and portions of about 150g per person  (even us who are greedy guts!) is about fine. Especially if you add a  handful of prawns or mussels and serve with rice or potatoes and the last of your summer runner beans from the freezer.

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Ingredients (to serve 4)

  • 4 fillets or steaks of monkfish
  • About 200g fresh mussels, cleaned
  • About 400ml of homemade tomato sauce or make up a simple sauce by sautéing one finely chopped onion in a little olive oil until transparent, then add 2 finely chopped cloves of garlic. Fry gently for a few minutes then add a tin of chopped tomatoes, 2 tbsp tomato purée, a good slosh of red wine, seasoning and a sprig of basil. Cover and simmer gently for about 30 minutes, removing the basil before using.
  • Some seasoned plain flour for dusting the fish
  • The grated zest of an unwaxed lemon
  • Some finely chopped flat leaf parsley and lemon wedges to serve

Start by coating the fish in seasoned flour and shallow fry on both sides until lightly browned. Remove from the pan to a plate and cover with foil.

Warm the tomato sauce and add the lemon zest and fish to it,  cooking gently for about 2 or 3 minutes. Carefully turn the fish over, add the mussels to the pan and cover with a lid. Cook for a further couple of minutes by which time the fish will be cooked through and the mussels will have opened. Discard any which refuse to open, sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with the lemon wedges.

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We enjoyed a lovely bottle of sauvignon blanc bought on our recent jaunt to Le Touquet..a perfect end to the month!

If you enjoy monkfish, you might like this beautiful, delicate, monkfish curry.

Where did January go?!

Normally a quiet month, a little flat after the excesses of Christmas. Not so here, it seems to have been busy and bright….and I’m not complaining.

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We have been pretty good about eating lighter, and eating less meat, but I have turned to an old standby favourite this month. Tray baked chicken  (although I used an oven dish!).

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It’s a quick dish to throw together using whatever is nestled in the fridge and although I mostly use skinned, bone-in chicken joints, it’s great with fish fillets or just veggies.

Peel and chop potatoes into large pieces, add vegetables like peppers, courgettes, tomatoes, carrots and a full head of garlic. I haven’t given quantities as this dish is great for one, two or a dozen people. Just judge how much your crowd will eat, add a little extra as they will always want to go back for more, and find an oven dish or tray to fit the quantity.  Put all the ingredients into the dish, preheat the oven to about 180 degrees.  Pour over some olive oil, season with coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper then customise any other seasoning to whatever takes your fancy. This time I used some dried oregano from our garden in Spain, a little smoked pimentón and half a finely chopped lemon.

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Mix together well, hands work best for this to ensure everything is well coated, and add a good slug of white wine,  stock or water.  Cover tightly with foil bake for about an hour then remove the foil and bake for about 20 minutes more until everything is starting to brown nicely. If you want to add some tender vegetables (I used some chopped kale) stir into the dish about 10 minutes before you’re finished. Then it’s  straight to the table, perfect one pot cooking!

We’ve been enjoying the winter sunshine and taking walks along Bexhill beach.  Then a quick trip across the channel to stock up on wine (stocks were dangerously low) and a lovely night in Le Touqet were enjoyed last weekend.

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And little Alfi,  one of our pups, has started on a course of hydrotherapy to build up his leg muscles after an operation on his hind leg in November to repair a damaged cruciate ligament.

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He’s not a water loving dog so is highly unimpressed with being put into a warm pool then shampooed and blow dried afterwards. I’d be delighted at the opportunity of such pampering but there’s just no pleasing some pups….!

I’ve been cooking and have some recipes to share with you soon, but in the meantime, enjoy the last few days of the month.

Feeling Fishy…

Regardless of where we are, Up the Mountain or Down by the Sea, we have access to fantastic seafood. Like many other folk we want to take a few weeks of eating menus that are a little lighter, and going down the fish and vegetable route works for us. We already enjoy pulses, so many meals are meat free, like our much loved lentils (minus the chorizo, or maybe just a little as we’re not being super strict, just making an effort!).

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New Year’s Eve was a very luxurious lobster and prawn platter with bubbles. Grapes and cava, Spanish style at 11pm to ring in the Spanish midnight and champagne and fireworks from London’s South Bank at midnight.

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Skate with prawns, capers and lemons featured another night (we just combined two favourite ways of cooking it…skate with capers and skate with prawns). Absolutely delicious and so quick and easy.

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Tonight was a version of a Spanish dish of prawns with mushrooms with plenty of garlic. Gambas y setas con ajos (setas are oyster mushrooms, but I used chestnut mushrooms this time). Chop your favourite mushrooms into bite sized pieces and stir fry quickly in some olive oil (I cooked in my wok) when they are just turning brown add some peeled, sliced garlic and a little chopped fresh parsley.  When the garlic starts to take on some colour, add some raw, peeled prawns. As soon as they have turned pink, season with coarse sea salt and a little pimentón and add a splash of white wine. Another 30 seconds in the hot pan and you are ready to dish up. Sprinkle with more parsley and serve with some lovely crusty bread to mop up the delicious juices.

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Whatever your plans for this month are, be happy! Don’t be hard on yourself if you break those resolutions made in a moment of madness, better still…throw them out the window and celebrate the fact that we’ve made it into another year…and let’s see what it brings. Happy New Year to you all.

Vanilla Scented Apple and Sultana Cake

 

I’m a lazy cake baker. Probably because I’d generally prefer to eat something savoury or spicy. Even for dessert! But there are times when the cake baking urge takes over and I give in. Usually with very little grace and I bake something wonderfully simple like Banana Bread. Recently I came across a small portion of stewed apple in one of my periodic freezer tidy ups (Christmas is looming and I need to make space!). It was 150ml and I  suspect I had put it aside to eat with porridge over a couple of mornings.

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I guessed that the 4 small mashed ripe bananas in the banana bread recipe were probably about the same volume as the stewed apples, and ignoring all the Mary Berry warnings about fruit adding liquid to cakes and causing all sorts of potential hazards, I ploughed ahead regardless. I made a few small changes to the original recipe, cooked it at a slightly higher temperature, and voila,  a lovely light and fragrant cake. Sometimes you just have to push the rules to their limits.

The cake has the same moist and slightly dense texture of banana bread, very filling!

Ingredients (to fit a 9″ × 5″ lined loaf tin)

  • 100g of sultanas soaked in your favourite tea (I used a lovely rooibus with vanilla gifted to me by the even lovelier Mandy over at The Complete Book), then drained and cooled
  • 175g self raising flour mixed with ½ teaspoon salt
  • 60ml olive oil (or use vegetable oil)
  • 150g sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 150g stewed apples
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees (fan) or 200 conventional oven

Mix the oil with the sugar then add the eggs one by one. Next stir in the apple followed by the sultanas and vanilla extract.

Mix in the flour and salt (you don’t need to be too gentle, it’s a very resilient cake mix) and pour into a lined loaf tin.

Bake for about an hour, covering with foil towards the end if it’s browning too quickly. It should be gently browned on top and a skewer  or sharp knife inserted into the middle should come out clean.  Cool for about 10 minutes in the tin then remove to a cooling rack and resist for as long as you can then enjoy with a cup of your favourite tea or coffee!