A Happy New Year to You All

From Big Man and Chica, our very best wishes to you all for love, laughter, health and happiness in 2013.

Tree

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Bean meaning to mention…..

Beans! Well, not just beans but Winter salads.  Winter doesn´t have to mean an end to fresh delicious salads, but the colder weather means we probably want something a little more robust but no less fresh and delicious to eat as a light meal or to accompany grilled meats, fish or whatever takes your fancy.

Especially after Christmas, and all that heavy food, these are welcome light meals to ease the strain on the waistband. And talking of Christmas, belated greetings to you all and apologies for the silence. Almost regular service will be resumed this week, and I hope that you all had a wonderful time with your loved ones, I will be slowly catching up with your blog posts over the next week or so.

Anyway, back to the food.  We´ve been trying to support local shops as much as possible and to buy locally grown, seasonal vegetables in the absence of our own veggie garden or store cupboard. Sometimes though, you just have to give into cravings and buy things that are out of season or grown elsewhere. Green beans seem to be everywhere in the supermarkets now, along with mange tout and runner beans. Maybe it´s my body craving something fresh and crunchy that makes me respond to the vibrant green colour. Who knows, but the beans were delicious!

Ingredients are flexible in these two tasty dishes, they´re just meant to inspire you, not dictate to you. Use what you have available, enjoy the fresh flavours.

Bean & asparagus salad (1)

Green Bean and Asparagus Salad

  • Blanch green beans and asparagus until just tender, then run under cold water to stop them cooking further. Chop into bite sized pieces, add halved cherry tomatoes, a chopped avocado and some hard boiled egg. Sprinkle over some sliced jamon or grilled bacon (leave out for a veggie version) and dress a mix of with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, English mustard, a pinch of sugar and seasoning.

 Potato, bean & caper salad (4)

Potato, Roasted Red Pepper, Bean and Caper Salad

  • Mix together cubed boiled potatoes, strips of roasted red peppers, green beans and halved caper berries.  Make a dressing of olive oil, lemon juice and zest and salt and pepper. Mix the salad gently. As a little added luxury, drizzle over some truffle oil.

Veggie Garden Eggs

Well, we´ve been home a week and, as expected, it´s been a week of running around seeing folk, catching up with all that awaits you after a 2 month absence and lots of eating and drinking!

Veggie Garden Eggs (10)

When I first used to visit Big Man before I lived in Spain, he was puzzled as to why I used to complain at the lack of vegetables in our diet. Spain has beautiful vegetables pretty much all year round. The problem is, when you live in the mountains and are eating in restaurants, the focus is on heavy mountain dishes – predominantly meat. Of course, this week, he´s come to understand what I was talking about and started groaning that he couldn´t face another meat heavy meal.

No problem, the little bit of veggie gardening we managed to do this year was tucked happily in our freezer and our lovely hens were happy to oblige with delicious free range eggs.  The result? A delicious, home cooked, not too heavy, but satisfying meal made entirely from home grown ingredients.

It´s similar to a Spanish dish called Huevos a la Flamenca, which I´ll show you another time, but today it was less about the jamon and the chorizo, and all about the vegetables. Leave out the eggs and you have a vegan meal, add them in and it´s vegetarian.

Ingredients for 2 people as a main course

  • 1 sweet onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 cup of crushed tomatoes
  • 3 mixed peppers, cut into thick slices
  • About a cup of a favourite green vegetables (I used our runner beans, thinly sliced)
  • 2 tablespoons of tomato purée
  • A sprig each of oregano and rosemary
  • A glass of wine (or water) Salt & Pepper
  • Olive oil

Start by gently frying the onions and garlic in a little oil until they start to soften then add in the peppers. Cover with a lid and when the peppers start to soften add the rest of the ingredients. Cover with a lid and allow to simmer gently for about 20-30 minutes until the peppers have broken down and are very soft.  Taste and adjust the seasoning and if too liquid, cook for a minute or two to reduce the sauce and remove the herbs.

Veggie Garden Eggs (2)

Transfer into individual (heat proof) serving dishes if you like, then crack two eggs into each portion. You can either pop the dishes into the oven on a medium heat for about 10 minutes until the eggs are set, or continue to cook on the stove top (this is what I did). If you like a soft yolk, using a chop stick or the “wrong” end of a spoon, gently stir the white into the vegetables as it cooks, avoiding the yolk. The white will “scramble” into the vegetables and the yolk will stay soft.

A foggy morning Up the Mountain
A foggy morning Up the Mountain

Eat with plenty of crusty bread and listen to your body thanking you for giving it a welcome hit of Vitamin C. A glass of wine also helps, but then it´s made of grapes and grapes are fruit…right?!

Scallops Pil Pil

Scallops Pil Pil (1)

When we´re Up the Mountain, we enjoy fresh fish from the coast several times a week from Fish Man. When we´re in England we are based on the south coast, so benefit from a wonderful local fishmonger or a trip to The Stade (the fisherman´s beach) in nearby Hastings where we can choose from an incredible range of fresh fish.

Recently (before heading back to Spain) we treated ourselves to some fresh scallops with their roe and decided to cook them Gambas Pil Pil style with plenty of fresh crusty bread to mop up those delicious spicy, garlicky juices.

Normally I´d cook this in a terracotta bowl which goes onto the stove top but foolishly hadn´t taken any to England with me. No problem, I used a small frying pan!

Ingredients to serve 2 people

  • About 4 – 6 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 4 fat cloves of garlic peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 or 2 dried birds eye chillies
  • About a level teaspoon of hot pimentón (or chilli powder)
  • Sea salt
  • 6-8 fresh scallops

Put all the ingredients except the scallops into a pan and start on a gentle heat “poaching” the garlic for 2-3 minutes. Now turn it up and when it starts to sizzle, gently drop in the scallops and cook for a further 1-2 minutes until the scallops are cooked through (this will depend on how thick your scallops are).

Serve sizzling hot and be prepared for lots of smacking of lips and licking of fingers.

Lamb Shanks with Borlotti Beans

Any regular readers of this blog will know that in the colder months, when I can light the oven in Spain (or pretty much any time in England) I am a huge fan of slow cooked comfort food.

Lamb Shanks with Borlotti & Harissa (1)

In Spain we often eat pork shanks, in England we got to enjoy lamb instead.  Here´s a simple recipe that is great for those cold winter days or nights and also a useful dish for entertaining as it can be prepared ahead and then forgotten about for several hours before serving.

Ingredients (to serve 2 people, easily doubled)

  • Two lamb shanks
  • 1 can (400g approx) of borlotti beans
  • About 1 cup of chopped tomatoes (tinned are fine at this time of year)
  • A sprig of rosemary
  • 4 cloves of crushed garlic
  • A glass of red wine
  • A teaspoon of olive oil
  • A teaspoon of tomato purée
  • Salt & Pepper

Mix all the ingredients (except the meat) together and season, pour them over the lamb using a deep oven proof dish. Cover with a lid or wrap tightly in foil and cook in a low oven for about 4 hours.

Serve with creamy mashed potato and make sure to finish that wine you opened to make the dish.

Can You See What I See?

Yes, it´s my mountain!

Home Again 9 Dic 12 (3)

We drove from England to Spain and arrived home late last night after a fairly slow journey through a cold, sleety and snowy France. Brrrr!

Home Again 9 Dic 12 (5)

We´re a bit “Up in the Air” (and it´s not just because we´re back Up Our Mountain). We don´t know where we´re going to be for Christmas.

Maybe Spain, or maybe back to the UK to finish off House Number 2 and possibly take on some more work or help my parents out with various jobs.

No matter. We´re here right now. The sun is shining, the garden and the veggie plot have been tidied and prepared for winter.

Home Again 9 Dic 12 (11)

The dogs are happy.

Home Again 9 Dic 12 (9)

The day started with good coffee, a walk around the garden snapping these quick shots and we´re off out for lunch! We are a happy Chica and Big Man. Well, we´re pretty much happy most of the time, but today we´re extra happy.

Home Again 9 Dic 12 (1)

More news as soon as we know ourselves what is happening, and time this week to catch up with some blogging, recipes and nesting back into our Mountain Home. Have a great Sunday everyone.

Over the County Line to Kent

Bexhill on Sea sits in the county of East Sussex.  Not too far away is the county of Kent, often known as The Garden of England because so much of the UKs fruit and vegetables (not to mention hops for beer making) is grown here.

A few weekends ago we celebrated our 7th anniversary. It actually falls on 11th November which many people here in the UK know as Remembrance Day or Armistice Day in honour of those who died in action and to commemorate the end of the First World War (the War to End All Wars…if only) at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.  A notable date for many reasons.

We headed over from East Sussex to Kent to stay in the beautiful fishing village of Whitstable, famous in particular for its Whitstable oysters.

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On the morning of 11th we went to nearby Canterbury, a beautiful medieval city and saw some moving Remembrance Day ceremonies.

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We even managed to get into the Cathedral during the service, but it was packed so we retreated to admire from the outside.

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We had two beautiful meals in local restaurants.

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We ate oysters out in the cold winter sunshine.

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Look, they recycle their shells, how clever is that? Not sure what they do with them though!

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We walked along the sea walk to the harbor.

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Admired the beautiful choice of fish for sale.

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Of course, Big Man enjoyed a pint of the local beer.

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And we ate a curiously quirky but wonderfully delicious dessert of Blue Cheese Ice Cream. I´m determined to work out how to make it (unless anyone has a recipe) as I imagine it would be incredible with walnuts, honey, figs, dates etc as an alternative to Christmas pudding.

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Of course, all good things must come to an end. Back to work Chica and Big Man!

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Venison Chops with Creamed Spinach and Mushrooms

Venison Chops with Creamed Mushrooms & Spinach (2)

I have spoken a few times about our lovely local butcher, London Road Butcher of Bexhill (just in case any locals are interested – but he does need a website!). Funnily enough, he was bought up in the same road as House Number One. Small world.

We recently saw a programme about cooking with traditional ingredients that are falling out of fashion, and venison was mentioned. I hadn’t eaten if for years and Big Man didn´t know if he had ever tasted it. In a timely fashion, the butcher had venison chops (which looked more like smaller versions of T-Bone steaks) for sale, so how could I say no?

The chops were cooked very simply – salted, rubbed with a little olive oil and cooked on a very hot griddle pan.  To go with them I made creamed spinach and mushrooms which I have since made again and served simply with rice. A great vegetarian dish (but obviously not when you have a slab of Bambi´s mother on the plate next to it). Quantities are flexible, the process is simple.

Venison Chops with Creamed Mushrooms & Spinach (1)

Ingredients (to serve 2 people)

  •  About 10 chestnut mushrooms, cut into medium slices
  • 4 or 5 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
  • About 4-6 cups of washed spinach leaves
  • A splash of white wine
  • 2 heaped tablespoons of full fat crème fraîche (don´t use the low fat version for this, it will split and be very runny)
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • Black pepper

Gently fry the mushrooms and garlic in a little oil with the lid on the pan until the mushrooms start to release some of their juices. Add a splash of white wine and the spinach and cover again. When the spinach has wilted, removed the lid, season and turn the heat up so that most of the liquid evaporates.  Turn the heat down low, stir in the crème fraîche, add a final grind of pepper and serve.