Green Dress

I´ll blend in nicely on St Patrick´s Day in this....

So, anyone who popped by today hoping for a recipe or a vegetable garden update will be sorely disappointed.  Sorry!  Today is sewing, well dressmaking to be more precise.

I have never been formally taught to sew apart from a brief four week evening class about a hundred years ago which did, usefully, teach me how to put a sleeve in.  The rest I am picking up through trial and (a great deal of) error. 

Living in Spain has made buying clothes quite tricky for me. Being a woman who loves her food means that this is reflected in my shape – I think I´m an “apple”….well endowed on top, and not much bottom to speak of.  If only I could find my waist I´d be heading somewhere towards hourglass! Actually, no, I´d just be a top heavy woman with a waist and a flat bottom…

Spanish fashion, at least in Andalucía, seems to cater for either the very young, thin and trendy or middle aged and frumpy.  I´m probably over exaggerating, but finding something half way fashionable that suits a well rounded forty something is quite tricky.

This year I decided to stop buying things that I either never wear because I get them home and decide they´re hideous, or wear a few times and then they fall apart. I also have a wardrobe full of lovely clothes from my “past” which I felt could be recycled and given a new life.

Back to basics for me, both in terms of not spending money and using what I have at my disposal to recreate.  Buying new material though, is permissible! 

Having gone through my wardrobe now and pretty much renewed everything that could be altered, I have plenty more skirts that actually fit, dresses that go over my chest but come in at my hips and the charity shop is also a whole lot better off.

I wanted to make something simple, but to do it well and chose a summer shift dress from the latest Burda magazine.  No zip (although having said that, I think I´ve pretty much mastered putting in zips), but I added some darts to fit it a little while still leaving room to put it on!  It´s the first time I´ve done a v-neck and I used bias binding.  I´m sure professionals would turn their noses up at this short cut, but it worked well and I´m pleased with the results.

Ok, am off to put on my new summer frock and do a bit of wafting around in it!

Stuffed, Baked Artichoke Bottoms

Romantic lighting or just too dark...?

Am I allowed to say “bottoms” or will I be censored?!  I had to say it because the hearts didn´t really make it into this dish.

Big Man came home the other day with about a dozen artichokes that a pal had given him.  Unfortunately they had been sitting in his truck, with daytime temperatures reaching 34 degrees Celsius for two days.  They were rather sad and dry looking.

I peeled away all the leaves and took out the “choke”, the hairy bit in the middle and then cooked them in water (with a good few spoonfuls of white wine vinegar to stop them going black) until they were almost tender.

I was just going to use them in a salad, but then decided that as they´d had a miserable few days in the heat, I would give them a more dramatic exit!

For the stuffing I used (for 12 artichokes)

  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 6 medium mushrooms and stalks, finely chopped and fried in olive oil with the garlic until soft
  • 3 heaped tablespoons of cream cheese
  • 3 level tablespoons of grated cheese (I used a mature goat´s cheese)
  • Some finely chopped parsley

I mixed all these ingredients together, seasoned with salt and pepper and then spooned the mixture onto the artichoke bottoms which I then placed in a lightly oiled baking dish.

I sprinkled them all with fresh white breadcrumbs and finished with a drizzle of olive oil.

These then went into a hot oven for about 15 minutes (until the breadcrumbs were browned) and I served them with my Spicy Tomato Sauce.  I think they were happy with their finale.

Ensalada Cateta – Country Salad

¡Ay que rico!

Before I start this quick post, I have to tell you that I´m having a giggle.  The word cateto or cateta translates perhaps more literally as “Peasant”, but not in an offensive way.  Before I started typing I just thought I´d do a quick translation check to see if there was another word I could use and all the on line translation tools, bizarrely come up with the word “leg”!  Not quite sure what is going on there…but I decided to call it Country Salad.

It´s another celebration of that most Andalucían of fruits, the orange.  Again, typically a poor person´s salad it was originally made with salt cod as it was cheap and you didn´t need to use much.  A few other bits of country produce like potatoes, peppers and olives, a good soak in olive oil and you were done.

Of course, nowadays you can get all sorts of glorified versions, but the one I´m giving you here is the one you´ll find in all my local bars and homes around here.  It´s served as tapas in bars, and as a light meal at home.  Of course, some people make their own little tweaks, and why shouldn´t they?  They might leave out the peppers and add tomatoes.  Some people like tomatoes or onions in it, others don´t.  And complete heathens, like me, sprinkle chopped fresh chili all over it to the amazement of their other halves….each to his own I say!

A delicious serving of “Leg” Salad!!

This is what you´ll need (approximately) per person as a light main dish servng size

  • 1 hard boiled egg, finely chopped
  • 2 medium potatoes (boiled in their skin) peeled then chopped into chunks
  • 1 small tin of tuna (I use tuna in brine and drain it, but use your favourite)
  • 1 roasted red pepper, chopped
  • 2 medium oranges (bitter if possible) peeled and cut into chunks
  • About 2 tablespoons of pitted olives sliced (or use ones with stones, your choice!)
  • Optional – chopped onion, chopped tomato, small flakes of salt cod (or use whatever you have available)
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Olive oil
  • White wine Vinegar (optional) but I like to use it

All you need to do it combine everything in a bowl, season and dress it and leave it for at least half an hour in the fridge so that the potatoes can soak up some of the lovely olive oil.

Good to serve at a party or buffet as it can be prepared ahead and does not suffer from being forgotten in the fridge for several hours.  Hope you enjoy it!

Easy Greek Style Yogurt

Thick, creamy yogurt

Making yogurt at home is very simple.  No need for yogurt makers, thermometers or complicated equipment. I don´t claim that this yogurt is Greek, as the milk I´m using is from Spanish cows (hopefully!) but the taste is the same creamy taste and texture is thick and gorgeous.

Are you ready?  Ok, then this is what you´ll need.

  • Fresh Milk – I used two litres, but you can make any quantity you like.  I also used semi skimmed, but you can use whole or skimmed if you prefer.
  • 1 small carton of live yogurt for your first batch
  • A saucepan with a lid
  • A hand whisk
  • A thermos flask big enough for your quantity of milk (optional)
  • A sieve
  • A piece of clean cloth for straining (I used a clean handkerchief – perfect size for my sieve!)
  • A little patience

Start by heating your milk until small bubbles start to form around the edges of the pan. Turn off the heat and whisk in your carton of yogurt.

That´s it for now!  You have several options at your fingertips to get this milk to do its magic and turn into yogurt.

As it´s hot here at the moment, I put a lid on my pot and sit it in the sun for about five hours.

You can put a lid on the pot and leave it in a very, very low oven for up to 12 hours – check on it after about 5 hours to see how it´s doing.  You can even leave it overnight.

Put it into a warmed thermos flask and leave overnight.

When you´ve done this and waited patiently, your yogurt will have formed and will look like this.

Yogurt before straining

Yogurt with some watery liquid surrounding it.  You could just whisk it all together and eat it as it is, it´s pretty delicious already.

To make it into Greek style yogurt you will need to strain it.  Set your sieve over a deep bowl or pot, line with clean muslin (or whatever), pour the yogurt in and leave to strain in the fridge. 

Set it over a bowl to strain

I left mine overnight.

Yogurt after overnight straining

When the time is up, you are left with quite a large amount of liquid which can be used in cooking or given to your chickens!

Liquid lost after straining

and a lovely bowl of super thick and creamy yogurt (give it a beat to loosen it all up, then keep chilled).

The finished product

If you keep back two or three tablespoons, you´ve got your starter for the next batch.

What you do with your delicious yogurt now is only limited by your imagination….!

Chicken Paella

Guess who loves black pepper?!

I can´t believe I´ve done so many posts without doing one on the famous Spanish Paella!  Paella traditionally comes from Valencia, up towards the north of Spain, and very good it is too.  People think of prawns and mussels when they talk of paella (which here is pronounced along the lines of pie-eh-ya) but there are meat versions and mixed meat and seafood versions, although not many vegetarian ones.

If you can buy proper paella rice, it does make all the difference.  Use long grain and it won´t be able to soak up all the flavours.  Use risotto rice and it will go creamy.  Paella rice plumps up, absorbs the flavour but the grains stay separate.

In Andalucía they tend to make more Arroz or Arroz Caldoso, which translates as Rice or Brothy Rice.  This is exactly the same as a paella, but with more stock, giving a more soupy dish. Whether you make Arroz or Paella, the technique is the same, it´s just the quantity of liquid that varies.

And now, allow me to let you into a little secret.  The beautiful colour of a Paella?  Saffron? Well, sometimes, but most housewives here use artificial colouring.  I was shocked when I found out – perhaps even more than when I realised how expensive saffron is, but I´m just letting you know.  I try not to use anything artificial in my cooking, and have been known to slip a little turmeric in, which doesn´t really affect the taste but gives a good golden colour.  You can also use paella spice sachets which contain salt, garlic, paprika, saffron and ground cloves….oh, and a little colouring too.  There´s no getting away from it.  I leave it to you…make your own mix with a few strands of saffron, or use a mix.  I won´t judge you!

So, here´s how I made this paella.  I can´t claim my version today is typically Andaluz, it was a ”what have we got in the fridge?” kind of day.  The beauty of this is that you can make it however you fancy.

  • A cup of cooked chicken
  • A quarter cup of diced jamon
  • Two cloves of crushed garlic
  • One small onion, finely chopped
  • One long thin green pepper, finely chopped
  • A stick of celery finely chopped
  • A cup of chopped tomatoes
  • About 3 cups of chicken stock
  • One and a half cups of rice
  • Seasoning
  • Olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons of hot pimentón (optional)
  • Paella spices
  • Lemons to serve

You can make this in a large frying pan if you don´t have a paella pan, or a saucepan if you want to make arroz. The paella pan in the photo is meant to serve four (!).  We ate about two thirds of it between the two of us and there was enough left over for a few tapas portions the next day.

Soften your onion, celery and pepper in olive oil and then add the crushed garlic.  When the garlic has softened, add your pimentón (or chilli powder) and spices and stir in. Now add your tomatoes and cook gently for a minute or two then put your chicken, jamon and stock in and allow to boil.  I find that for a paella I use double the quantity of liquid to rice, 3 times for arroz. 

When the liquid is boiling, add the rice and some seasoning, stir it all around and reduce the heat.  I often partly cover the dish with a large lid.  You don´t need to stir it like a risotto, some will stick on the bottom, but in my house we fight for those bits!  I can´t be more precise about quantities as a lot will depend on how much liquid your rice absorbs. Have a pot of boiling water or stock on the side and if you feel it´s cooking too quickly add a little more.

When the rice is almost cooked, but not quite there, turn it off and cover it.  Use tin foil or a lid.  These last few minutes “resting” are important.  Here they say that arroz can be “mal cocinado, pero bien reposado” which means badly cooked but well rested.  Hopefully yours will be both bien cocindao and bien reposado!

Laid back and rested rice

And that´s it, serve with plenty of lemons to squeeze over and a glass of your favourite wine.

I´ll do a seafood version soon – my two best girlfriends in the world are coming to stay tomorrow, so no doubt we´ll have plenty of cooking, eating and wine drinking sessions together that I can share with you all!

Figs for breakfast

A Kind of Roman Breakfast!

When I was a child, summer holidays were extra special.  We joined the great exodus of Italians “going home” for August.  My father, like many Italians, started his working life in London as a waiter.  Sometimes the restaurant he worked in, usually Italian, shut for the month to allow staff to be with their families.  Other times, it didn´t, which often meant a return from holiday at the start of September with no job for my father.  I´ve only recently thought about this and how difficult and precarious things must have been for the family financially at times and the sacrifices they made for us children.

My family, however, thought it was important for my brother and I to be in Italy with our many cousins and aunties and uncles, spending time being free on the beach, eating meals late at night, talking Italian and sharing that special love that comes from a huge extended family. I thank them for it, I´m sure much of what I experienced in those summer holidays helped make me the person I am today.

We often drove to Italy as putting the car on the overnight train from Calais to Milan was expensive.  Then we faced a further day or two of journey to the very south, the “toe of the boot”, to Calabria. It was an epic journey, but it was made fun with plenty of food, books to read, songs to sing in the car (no DVDs or Playstations then!) and stops along the way to visit more family and friends.

We always stopped in Roma, where my father had spent a portion of his youth and visited Zia Sara and Zio Angelo.  Roma has some wonderful food markets and I have strong memories of someone going out in the morning to buy focaccia for breakfast – that typical flat white bread drizzled with olive oil, coarse salt and sometimes rosemary.  I don´t know if it was a Roman thing, or a family thing, but if we were lucky we also got a bag of juicy figs to go with it.  An extra sprinkle of salt, a little drizzle of olive oil and it was heaven on a piece of bread.  Sweet, salty and peppery all at the same time.

Now I try to recreate it with griddled bread, a sprinkle of coarse sea salt and a drizzle of our very own olive oil.  It´s not quite the same, but the memories make it all the sweeter.

A Midsummer Night´s Dream

A Midsummer Night´s Dream

As a Londoner, born and bred, I have a deep and loving appreciation for the City´s green spaces.  We have some wonderful parks in London – some for playing in, kicking a ball around and walking the dogs. Others are more formal and perfect for admiring the beauty of the gardens, listening to the band in summer, or just laying back on the grass and enjoying a quiet moment in the heart of London. 

One of these parks is Regent´s Park, to the north of the centre, and every summer it hosts a season of Open Air Theatre events. You can take a picnic, a few bottles of something gorgeous, a group of friends and enjoy a wonderful evening.  In true British spirit, the performance is only cancelled if it rains heavily during a performance – a performance is never cancelled before the start time! 

Most years a production of Shakespeare´s “A Midsummer Night´s Dream” is performed on that special night and I have seen many performances of this there. Some were based in the future (dire), some were just plain daft, and others more traditional with a mischievous Puck, romantic heroes, comedy players and much silliness.

Last night Big Man and I sat in the garden enjoying the longest day of the year.  We talked, we laughed, we reminisced about summers long gone and talked of our hopes and dreams for those yet to come. It was warm and the sky was clear, a beautiful evening. And while we did this, we sipped on a cocktail we came up with to celebrate this very special night.  Do hope you give it a go and enjoy it!

Sharing a (short) hot summer´s night with talk and laughter

Watermelon and Pomegranate Dream

Blend about 500g of watermelon flesh with half a litre of pomegranate juice and about 20 mint leaves.  Add a spirit of your choice, we used vodka and chill with some ice cubes. Two thirds fill your glass and top up with soda water.

 

Puck:

If we shadows have offended, think but this and all is mended,

That you have but slumber´d here, while these visions did appear

And this weak and idle theme, no more yielding but a dream,

Gentles, do not reprehend: if you pardon, we will mend.

And, as I´m an honest Puck, if we have unearned luck,

Now to ´scape the serpent´s tongue. We will make amends ere long:

Else the Puck a liar call.  So, good night unto you all.

Give me your hands, if we be friends, And Robin shall restore amends.

 

 In loving memory of a dear friend, and an amazing cook, long gone but always fondly remembered with laughter and smiles. Happy Birthday Gary – think you would have enjoyed this one!

The Vegetable Garden – One Month On

I realised tonight that a month had flown past since we planted our vegetable “plugs” this year.  We´re catching up as we´ve has plenty of rain followed by sunshine and a few misty evenings, which the plants seem to love!

Our herbs are doing well, apart from my parsley and cilantro (coriander) which are still looking a bit sad.

I´ve let the sage flower as I think it looks so pretty.  I sometimes deep fry the large leaves in very hot olive oil for a few seconds and sprinkle with coarse sea salt as a little nibble with almonds and olive…and wine, of course!

Sage flowers

The mint is going crazy…these were the stragglers which I had to pull up later.

Rampaging Mint

I´ve also let the chives go to seed as the flowers are also lovely in salads.

Delicious chives...great for potato salad

The basil is almost ready for the first batch of pesto.

Fragrant Basil

We´ve got plum tomatoes.

A Future Sun Dried Tomato

We´ve got a “wild” tomato which has sprung up from a leftover seed from a squashed tomato from last year.  It has such a desire to live, we´ve let it do its own thing!

Born to be wild....!

We have some (very) bitter salad leaves and the delicious chard.  The celery tucked in there is slow to get going, but we´ll let it take its time.

Green Leaves and Bitter Leaves

Tomatoes, beans and the little muscat vines.

View down to my kitchen window

We´ve got rocket seedlings (must plant some more though)

Aaah....less than a week old

The first of the runner beans should be ready to pick in a few days

Teeny, tiny beans

The onions are doing well too

Onions in neat rows!

We´ve got long thin green peppers and large bell peppers – but we can´t remember which are which.  We´ll soon find out!

Which one are you then?

Cucumber flowers

Grown from last year´s seeds

The aubergine flowers are so pretty – wish they´d hurry up as I love aubergines (eggplant!)

Hurry Up! Hurry Up!

Dwarf French beans (yellow and green) which we only planted a week ago

Not quite Jack & The Beanstalk, but working on it!

And finally, radish seedlings…not long now!

Peppery and Pretty!

As I said, we´re a little behind this year because of the very wet spring that we had, but we´re happy with progress so far and already dreaming of grilled vegetables, salads and bunches of grapes.  Happy growing to you all!

Oatmeal Bread

Delicious and Different!

I enjoy making bread, and it´s always good to come across new recipes.  When I saw JamieAnne´s recipe for Oatmeal Bread over on her blog, A Dash of Domestic, I had to give it a go.

I followed her recipe almost exactly apart from the following little changes

  • I used one tablespoon of olive oil instead of butter
  • My oats needed cooking (albeit only for a few minutes) so I put all the water allowance (for the oats and the yeast) in with the oats and cooked them up for about 3 minutes before proceeding with the recipe
  • I used a sachet of easy blend yeast

Finally, I made the dough in the morning.  It was lovely to work with and became very smooth and silky quite quickly.  It was a hot day so I dusted it with flour, slashed the top then covered it with a tea towel and left it in a sheltered but shady spot in the garden for two hours then baked.

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It even looked beautiful as it was rising!  We enjoyed the slightly sweet taste which comes from the molasses and thought it worked well with salty cheese and also with paté and the last of my home made fig jam from last year.

Thanks JamieAnne, will be making this one again!

Chicken Pinchito Salad

A tickle of spices...

Pinchos, or Pinchitos, are Spain´s answer to Kebabs.  Despite their “Moorish” (i.e. Arabic) origins, they are usually made of pork, but you can also find them made of chicken.  This is typical Feria food, cooked in front of you at the bar, speared with a slice of bread, and if they use metal skewers, you just hand them back when you´ve finished eating!

The spices which the cubes of meat are rubbed in can vary slightly, shops and butchers sell their own mixes.  Typically though it´s a mix which is like Ras el hanout, which is used widely in North Africa, from which Andalucía receives many food influences. 

When we went to Morocco earlier this year, we bought a supply of spices to see us through a few months and because it´s so good, I didn´t want to just save it for kebabs. 

Beautiful Spices...

Here´s an easy salad, which (if you have any kind of spice mix you like to use on meat) you can pull together from store cupboard ingredients.  This recipe made a light supper for two.

For the salad

  • Two chicken thighs deboned, cubed and rubbed in 1 heaped tablespoon of spice mix and seasoned with salt.  These are then cooked on the griddle (plancha) with a small amount of olive oil and left to cool
  • 6 rashers of streaky bacon cooked for 6 minutes in the microwave then left to cool and roughly chopped
  • 2 medium cooked potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • Half a cos lettuce finely chopped
  • Half a cup of pitted black olives, roughly chopped
  • One small green pepper, finely sliced

For the dressing

  • Half a cup of mayonnaise
  • Two tablespoons of milk
  • An additional teaspoon of spice mix
  • A squeeze of lemon juice
  • Salt and Pepper

Mix all the salad ingredients in a large bowl then in a jar shake together all the dressing ingredients.  Pour over the salad and toss well to get all the dressing into the leaves.  Would also be good with some croutons.