Potaje de Lentejas – Lentil Stew

Another “Plato de Cuchara” or spoon dish – we like our pulses here in Spain.  Many of these dishes were traditional as you could feed large families with few ingredients which were not costly.  Meats are typically added at the end (usually pork products) so the beauty is that they can be vegetarian dishes too, if you prefer.

Lentils are great, as apart from being cheap, they cook fairly quickly and only need rinsing but not presoaking.

For four people as a main dish or six as a starter you´ll need

  • About 500g of lentils – we have the flat green ones here
  • Water to cover
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, quartered
  • Half each of a red and green pepper, chopped into bite sized chunks
  • Two tomatoes cut into bite sized chunks
  • 1 bay leaf
  • A couple of carrots peeled and finely diced
  • A stick of celery plus the leaves (if it has leaves).  Finely dice the celery but not the leaves.
  • 4 or 5 whole fat cloves of garlic
  • 2 medium potatoes peeled and cut into small cubes (keep these in a bowl of water separately)
  • Sprig of fresh thyme or rosemary if you have it
  • ¼ teaspoon each of pimentón and paprika
  • Salt to taste (at end of cooking)
  • Optional – a couple of chorizo and/or morcilla or your favourite sausages

Rinse the lentils then add all the vegetables and spices apart from the salt to a large cooking pot.  Cover well with water, add the oil and bring to the boil.  Reduce the heat slightly but don´t let them come off the boil while cooking as this will make the lentils hard. They will probably take about 45 minutes or so.

When the lentils are soft, add the potato and meats (if using) and continue cooking until the potatoes are cooked. Remove the bay leaf and celery leaves and add salt (and pepper too if you like) to taste and you´re ready to serve. Slice the sausages into smaller pieces before serving. A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon over the top really lifts the flavour, but that´s just the way I like it!

Tastes even better the next day.

Cruising the High Seas with a Tot of Something Fruity

Planning some Christmas Recipes

I was going to give this post a Christmas heading, but it´s about fruit flavoured liqueurs, and who needs Christmas as an excuse to open a bottle and share with friends?!

Every year for the last few years, I have made a batch of orange flavoured liqueur (which is made from vodka as it´s virtually impossible to buy pure alcohol here).  It´s rather like Limoncello and the recipe comes from the BBC Good Food website.

I won´t reproduce it here, just click on the link above and you can see how easy it is to do.  And if you fancy a batch for Christmas to either drink at home or to put into pretty bottles as gifts…well, you still have time.

I have also now “tested” my Cherry Brandy which I made back in the summer.  Remember this?  Well, all I can say is “wow”!  I´m so pleased with how it has turned out and I know we´ll be enjoying it over the coming months. The cherries are amazing too and I am planning to serve a few this weekend with a citrus sponge cake and vanilla ice cream.

Digressing a little, Cherry Brandy always reminds me of my Great Aunt Joan, my darling Grandmother´s older sister.  Joan was a stout old spinster, a little gruff, but caring deep down as she dedicated her life to running children´s homes.  She spent her spare time entering competitions and must have been pretty good at it as she won things like holidays, cars and cruises.  My lucky grandmother was often chosen to accompany her on these little jaunts, and it was mostly good fun for them both.

I say mostly, because Aunt Joan was teetotal, and always frowned at anyone letting the smallest drop of alcohol pass their lips. My Grandmother, on the other hand, enjoyed a drink almost right up to her dying day aged 93 – she said it kept her young.  They were on a cruise on the QEII, when a young boy was taken ill with appendicitis and the Captain announced that the ship would turn back to the last port so that he could be operated on.  This would cause a delay of about 10 hours to their journey, and during this period the bars would be open free of charge to all guests.

My grandmother happily planned an afternoon of white wine drinking and sun bathing when Aunt Joan had a bit of a panic attack.  The already over worked Ship´s Doctor was called and prescribed a small glass of Cherry Brandy to calm Joan´s nerves.  As it was being “prescribed” rather than poured by a bar tender, Aunt Joan felt that this was acceptable.  It seems she took to keeping bottles of Cherry Brandy all over the place which she took frequent “nips” of as her “calming tonic”.  My grandmother was able to spend her afternoon as planned as Aunt Joan lay in her cabin dozing, happy and taking little sips of her Cherry Tonic.

Feeling Fishy

Finger Lickin´Good!

Fish Man took a week off recently and oh how we missed him!  Fortunately, he came back refreshed and with a van packed full of gorgeous things for us to enjoy.

After our enforced fish free week, I went a bit mad, and bought some tiny little crabs and a large fillet of rosada (a firm white fish) for us to enjoy.

The crabs were simple to deal with – a good rinse then plunged into boiling, salted water.  You need to be quite heavy handed with the salt as they are usually cooked in sea water. In the absence of this up our mountain, a little extra salt goes a long way.  After about two minutes they will turn a darker pink colour, drain them and then put into a bowl of iced water to stop them cooking further.  It´s the same process that you would use for cooking prawns.

Eeek....

These were then chilled and served as a starter with alioli and lemons.  It looks like a huge portion, but there is not a lot of meat inside these little critters.  The fun is in chomping, slurping and licking your fingers!

The rosada was treated equally simply.  I sautéed red peppers with onions and courgettes until soft, lay the fish fillets over the top and seasoned everything.  After covering the pan with a lid I let them cook through gently for about five minutes (until they were no longer opaque), then squeezed plenty of lemon juice over.

Fabulous FIsh

Healthy, light and delicious…all we needed was the sound of the waves lapping against the shore.

Pickled Olives

Ok, so I know that for most people, pickling their own olives is fairly unrealistic.  Having said that, my parents have been on holiday around this time of year and bought olives in local markets abroad and then successfully pickled the olives back in London.

We´re getting to that time of year here were the olives are fattening up nicely after the rain finally started and the boughs are beginning to bend under their weight.  Custom here says that they should be picked when the moon is waning, that is, in the week following a full moon.  I expect we´ll be picking early December for crushing and making olive oil, but this month I picked a few buckets full for us to eat over the coming months.

We have a few varieties growing in our little olive grove.  Large fat olives, the kind they often put in a dry martini.  They´re called Manzanilla and have a pleasant nutty taste. These are the olives in the bowl on the left.

The most common variety round here is called Verdial (right bucket) and makes excellent olive oil for eating “raw” i.e. in salads or on bread. They are medium sized and have a sweet fruity flavour.

We also have some tiny olives (centre bucket) which are a variety called Picual with a slightly more bitter and peppery taste.

I picked a mixture of these and put them into my most glamorous buckets, and covered them with water.  Luckily we can get spring water here as chlorinated or tap water does tend to give them a slightly different taste.

The water is changed daily until they lose their bitterness. Smaller ones take less time, and if you split them first they take even less time.  The process can take anything from a few days to a month…patience, patience.

Finally, when they´ve reached the right stage (and you´ll be tasting them to check them), they get a final rinse and are packed into containers, flavoured with herbs (I used dried chili, garlic, lemon peel and rosemary) and covered in a salty brine.

Just a few days more of patience and they´re ready to enjoy.  They´ll keep for months, up to a year if you´ve made enough to get you through to next November.  As time goes on they may get a little softer and a harmless scum, which can just be removed, will appear on top of the brine.

Now, how do you like your martini – shaken or stirred?

PS. For some other great ways of making your own olives to eat, check out these great posts here and here from Olives and Artichokes

Autumn Quince and Apple Crumble

You have probably noticed that there are not so many dessert recipes on my blog. There are several reasons for this.  First of all, I don´t really have a sweet tooth, and as I´m the cook in this house, if you want sweet, there´s always chocolate in the larder!  Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, Big Man and I do need to be a bit sensible about the calories – so dessert is a special treat for us rather than an everyday occurrence.  Finally, Spain doesn´t really have a culture of home made desserts.  Yes, we have our Flan (Crême Caramel), Arroz con Leche (Rice Pudding) and Natillas (Cold Custard) but mostly it´s a piece of fruit to finish the meal. As we are able to get hold of such delicious seasonal fruit, that´s mainly what we eat and enjoy.

Having said that, quince are now in season, and we´ve made our annual supply of Quince Jelly or Carne de Membrillo. Our kindly neighbour is still providing us with a couple of quince (or is that quinces?) as the last few ripen and a nearby village has some delicious sweet, crunchy apples…which make a lovely change from the usual inspid, spongey monsters that are typically available to us.

Sunday lunch recently, after a hard morning´s work on the house and garden, most definitely warranted a delicious dessert and I must have been feeling nostalgic for England.  I decided to make a delicious autumnal crumble with quince and apple and to serve it with hot creamy custard.

Ingredients

  • 1 large quince peeled and chopped (or one large sour cooking apple)
  • ½ teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons of honey and 1 tablespoon of water

Put the above ingredients into a saucepan with a lid and simmer until soft and all the liquid has evaporated

Peel and slice two large apples and stir into the cooked quince and sprinkle over 1 teaspoon of mixed spice.  If you like your desserts sweet, add brown sugar to taste.

For the crumble

  • One cup of plain flour, half a cup of oats, 100g grams of grated chilled butter and half a cup of brown sugar.

Put all the above ingredients into a food processor and blitz for a few seconds until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. You can also do this by hand.

Put the fruit mixture into a pie dish, cover with the crumble topping and bake on high for about 30-40 minutes until slightly browned on top.  Some of the fruit mixture is likely to bubble out and caramelize, so I recommend putting your pie dish onto a baking tray lined with foil.

Serve with custard and fight your nearest and dearest for the crispy caramelized bits.  Serves four.  ¡Buen provecho!

Creamed Cauliflower Soup

Who needs bouquets when your loved one brings you cauliflower?!

Recently Big Man came home with one of his horticultural “surprises” for me.  Five cauliflowers!  We both love cauliflower, but after giving some away and eating cauliflower with vinaigrette, buttered cauliflower and cauliflower cheese, we were still looking at a cooked cauliflower in the fridge wondering what to do with it.

Inspired by a potato and garlic soup recipe over at Rufus´ Food and Spirits Guide, this cauliflower´s destiny was decided.  Of course, I was in a rush and didn´t have exactly the ingredients to hand, so I made do.

I loved the idea of the roasted garlic, but as I had nothing else to cook in the oven, it felt extravagant to turn the oven on just to roast one head of garlic.   I decided to experiment and try to cook it in the microwave to see how it turned out.  I usually use my microwave to store my bread in (a kind of electrical bread bin if you like!) so for me to actually cook something in my microwave is rather unusual…

I put a whole head of garlic in on medium for about 3 minutes and I was amazed when it was done.  Of course, there were no lovely toasty edges, but the garlic smelt great and each clove was perfectly soft and ready to pop out of its skin to use.

I put the cloves of garlic in a saucepan with a little olive oil and warmed them through whilst mashing them with the back of a spoon.  I added the cooked cauliflower broken into florets, a teaspoon of ground cumin seeds and covered with vegetable stock (although water would also be fine).  After bringing it to the boil I reduced the heat and let it simmer for about 10 minutes.

In the absence of cream I then added half a cup of milk and a tablespoon of mascarpone cheese and then blended with a stick blender.

A few left over rashers of bacon which I also cooked in the microwave – I was feeling adventurous – were cut into small pieces and sprinkled over to finish the dish off.  I put a kitchen towel on a plate, put the bacon on top and covered with another sheet of kitchen towel and cooked on high for 5 minutes.  This gave me beautifully dry, crisp bacon, and no greasy pan to wash.

Perfect!  And I now officially love my microwave.

Dulce de Membrillo – Quince Jelly

The Owl and the Pussycat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note.

The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
“O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are, you are, you are,
What a beautiful Pussy you are.”
Pussy said to the Owl “You elegant fowl,
How charmingly sweet you sing.
O let us be married, too long we have tarried;
But what shall we do for a ring?”

They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-tree grows,
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose, his nose, his nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.
“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling your ring?”
Said the Piggy, “I will”
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.

They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon.
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand.
They danced by the light of the moon, the moon, the moon,
They danced by the light of the moon

I couldn´t resist quoting the above “nonsense” poem by Edward Lear – after all, how much poetry mentions the beautiful quince?  Aah…such silly romantic nonsense.

Actually, making quince jelly in our house is one of the few cooking adventures we undertake together, so there is a small element of romance to it!  Chopping up a quince is quite tough – fine if you´re only doing one or two, but every year we usually make a huge batch of Carne or Dulce de Membrillo in one go and it takes 3 or four hours. Much easier if there are two of you working together.  I know that autumn is really here, and in fact today was dull, grey and wet, so it was perfect for steaming up the kitchen with beautiful smells.

Making quince jelly is not difficult.  You just need a little patience, a big pot and a sharp knife.  You´ll be rewarded with beautiful jewel coloured jelly which will last for months if kept in the fridge or a cold place and it can be eaten with cheese and hams or on its own as a delicious sugary treat.

Even if you only have one or two quinces, do give this a go as they are very tart unless lots of sugar is added (but also very nice baked with honey, sugar and raisins as a dessert).

For every kilo of prepared fruit, you will need 750g of sugar.  And that´s it, ingredient list over.

Wash the fruit and get prepared with scales, knives, chopping boards and your pot.

Cut into halves, quarters and even eighths if you have small hands to make it easier.

Core and chop into chunks.  I recommend weighing as you go along.

Put the quince into your biggest pot and add the sugar.

This is where the slightly hard work and patience comes in.  Start on the lowest heat and keep turning the quince and sugar with a wooden spoon.  You don´t want them to catch on the bottom of the pot while the sugar is dissolving as this will give your jelly a burnt taste.

Dissolve the sugar slowly (and if anything does burn, just remove the offending chunk).

Once the sugar has dissolved, turn up the heat and bubble gently until the quince has turned mushy and amber coloured. We had two pots of 5 and 3 kg of fruit plus sugar and they took about 30 minutes each from starting to bubble.

Just a bit longer now.

Now remove from the heat and leave to cool for about 10 minutes then blend with a stick blender or mash then pass through a mouli.

Pour into shallow plastic tubs, cover with a cloth until cool and solid then put the lids on.

Store in the fridge until you are ready to enjoy with cheese, nuts, and whatever takes your fancy.  Port, dessert wines and also a good red wine work well I find!

Throw another log on the fire please Big Man…

When I lived in London and the weather turned chilly (usually around the second week of August if I remember correctly), I cranked up the central heating and thought nothing more about turning it off again until about the second week of July.

Living in the Campo, we have no mains gas connection.  A few brave souls have installed gas fired central heating, but because our main living/dining/kitchen area is all one room, we decided that a fire would be enough for us.

Well, it should have been had the first fire we bought worked well.  It was a super duper one with a glass door that was meant to waft lovely warm air over us and fill the house with a cosy glow.  Mmm.  What we actually got was a smoky old fart of a fireplace that ate up wood like a starving person newly released from the fat farm and left us shivering and having to repaint the house which turned a yucky nicotine brown colour.

We saved up our pennies and bought a new fire which looked almost identical but to our great joy, actually worked! Now our fire eats wood like a super model on a diet, wafts warm air over us without suffocating us with smoke and warms the bathroom and hall which sit behind it until the next morning.

Getting wood to the house is a whole other matter.  No quick trip to the petrol station for a bag of logs, we buy several thousand kilos a year to keep us going, and have a very special way of getting it up the slope to our house. Just in case you should find yourself in the same situation, here´s our recipe for keeping toasty warm all winter when living in the almost middle of nowhere.

First, load 4 thousand kilos of oak onto your rusty but trust old lorry.  Feel free to substitute olive, almond or cherry wood as available that year.

Leave some of it in your little olive grove.

Drive your rusty but trusty lorry over kindly neighbour´s field and park by side of your house. Crank up the winch and start to manoeuvre a couple of bags into place outside your back door.

If you have a small dog called Alfi (or similar), take him up to the roof with you to help direct the winch. Small dogs have a particular talent for this I find.

Otherwise, get a friendly neighbour to help.

Let your eye wander over the sad looking vegetable garden enjoying a well deserved rest for the winter.

Place the wood where you want it.

Accept a kiss from your lovely but hot and grubby Big Man who has done all the work.

Light that fire, open a bottle of wine and relax.

Gardens and Puff Pastry with a Side Order of Steak and Chips

Bushy Garden Oct 2011

It´s that time of year here when you need to “put the garden to bed”.  Before you tuck it in for the winter, you can hack back the summer growth and give it a little room to breathe.

The interent and phone were down most of Sunday and all day Monday.  Frustrating but being “incomunicado” forces you to get up off your nether region and do something!  Gardening was the answer.

After a morning of hard work in the garden, we needed something to reward ourselves with – what better than steak and chips?  Steak is a rare treat for us, so we tend not to mess around with it too much.  A little massage with olive oil and seasoning, and onto the grill pan.  Chunky potatoes cooked in olive oil, and a little English mustard mixed with mayonnaise do it for me.

I had some leftovers from making my Chicken, Mushroom and Bacon Pie (recipe to follow another day) , so decided to make an easy dish to go with the steak and chips.

I cut what remained of the puff pastry into two rectangles and lightly cut (but not all the way through) another rectangle about one cm inside the outer edges of the pastry.  I brushed the pastry with milk and baked at 200ºC for about 15 minutes until puffed up and golden. When the pastry had cooled down I pushed in the middle section of the rectangle to leave a hollow space.

Save on the washing up and have a starter and main on the same plate

With very little oil I fried 4 thinly sliced mushrooms with 2 crushed cloves of garlic until soft then added 2 heaped tablespoons of chopped bacon.  I then added 1 heaped tablespoon of plan flour and stirred until it was cooked through.  I gradually added splashes of milk (about 5 or 6 in total), stirring all the time until I had a thick sauce and then filled the pastry cases with this.  I put them back into the oven on a low heat until I was ready to dish up the rest of the meal.

Bald Garden Nov 2011

A lovely glass of El Coto Rioja went down well with this and we sat outside for 15 minutes in the last of the afternoon´s sunshine admiring out work and drinking a good strong coffee.  It was a good day.

Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire

Last night was 5th November, Bonfire Night. It´s a night much celebrated in the UK with bonfires, fireworks and all sorts of lovely outdoor parties and food.

Of course, here in Andalucía it´s a day like any other.  But for us, it was marked in a small way by lighting our fire for the first time this autumn.  We´ve been lucky, the evenings are turning chilly but are still mild enough for a warm sweater and an extra glass of wine to be enough to keep you warm through the evening.

Yesterday, though, Big Man decided it was time to have a fire, so he got it going with dry wood we had left from last year.  We still have to bring up a big stock of wood from the olives to get us through the winter.  Because the wood was so dry the fire was soon blazing away and I popped out to see a neighbour for an hour or two.

I got back a while later to find another neighbour happily settled in with Big Man, the fire crackling away and very jolly atmosphere filled the room along with the scent of olive wood.

They were in the process of carrying out some serious scientific research – which wine goes best with roasted chestnuts?  In order to ensure they were being completely thorough there was a bottle each of dry, semi sweet and dessert wine.  Because they are tidy boys, they had even put a cover on the table to protect it…as you can see, it was a very glamorous newspaper.  Honestly, we really are such classy folk up our mountain!

Anyway, we ate chestnuts, drank the wine, and to be honest I can´t actually remember which wine one was nicest…I´ll leave it to you to carry out your own research.