Sweets for my sweet, sugar for my honey

Muttabaq (2)

Well, not just for Big Man, but for some dear friends who came to visit recently. Time for desserts, sitting around after a meal chatting until the candles burn down, sipping coffee and eating “just one more little piece” even though the waistband is straining a little.

To be honest, most of my girlfriends are not big dessert eaters. Not for any health or diet reasons, we’re just more fans of all things savoury. A good compromise was found once more in the pages of Jerusalem, the cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. I decided to make Muttabaq, a delicious dessert made with layers of buttery filo pastry and filled with creamy cheese.

If you want a look at the original version, hope over to see how Chaise Longue of Olives and Artichokes made it.  I decided to add a little Chica twist of my own.

Ingredients

  • 1 packet of filo pastry
  • 100g melted butter (the original recipe calls for about 50g more but I found I didn’t need it all)
  • 2 x 250g packs of ricotta (Check out Chgo John’s method if you want to make you own)
  • 1 x 250g pack of mascarpone (the original recipe calls for goat’s cheese but I have a goat’s cheese hating pal)
  • A large handful of chopped pistachios

Then my additions

  • About a dozen fresh dates, finely chopped
  • About half a cup of chopped walnuts
  • The grated rind of an orange
  • A tablespoon of icing or caster sugar
  • 2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon

Using half the packet of filo, place layers of pastry in a deep baking dish brushing with melted butter between layers. Cut off any edges that curl up the side of the dish. Mix together the cheese, orange rind and sugar and spread over the pastry. Sprinkle over the dates and walnuts and then place the remaining pastry over the top in layers, brushing again with butter as you go. Tuck the outside edges of the top pastry section under the bottom half, brush the top with melted butter and sprinkle over the pistachios. Cut into squares, without cutting right through to the bottom

Muttabaq Pistachios (1)

Bake for25 mins approx. at 225 degrees (or a hot oven) until golden brown. Meanwhile make up a lemon sugar syrup using 250g sugar, 90mls of water and the 3 tablespoons of lemon juice.

When the pastry comes out of the oven, pour over the sugar syrup (it seems like a lot but just keep going). Serve just warm but it’s also good cold.

To accompany the Muttabaq I made a Moroccan inspired dish of sliced oranges sprinkled with chopped mint, pomegranate seeds, rosewater, sugar and cinnamon. Very pretty and fresh.

Oranges & Rosewater (1)

We talked for hours, we reminisced, we laughed…now that’s what I call a perfect evening. And now I wish all of you and your loved ones peace and joy over Easter and I hope you all get to enjoy some wonderful food, time and laughter together.

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Staple Guns and Happy Accident Pasta

It’s been a busy old time here and writing has been virtually impossible. Floorboards are up, plumbing is going down, kitchen units have been delivered and it’s freezing cold. Oh well, I think we’ve got to the stage where it can’t possibly get any worse, just better, so onwards and upwards.

In between the mucky stuff, we’ve continued to eat well. Never fear, Chica and Big Man won’t fade away. I had planned one evening to make a carbonara but got home to find, shock horror, not an egg in the house. As we have no chickens here, I had to make do and ended up with what I call my Happy Accident pasta.

Happy Accident Pasta (1)

I fried some garlic and finely chopped onion then added a few rashers of finely chopped smoked streaky bacon and a handful of sliced mushrooms.

When the pasta was cooked I kept a little of the cooking water and stirred in the bacon and mushrooms plus a good dollop of crème fraiche, some finely chopped spinach and about half a cup of chopped up dolcelatte.

Result? Creamy, delicious, quick pasta but most definitely not carbonara.

Then it was back to work tidying up some dining chairs we bought second hand. Quite a traditional style but it will work in the house. The chairs had a regency stripe silk material covering them but it had seen better days…many bottoms had clearly sat on them and enjoyed countless meals around the table.

Dining Chair Seats (3)

So it was off with old material.

Dining Chair Seats (4)

Cutting out of a new piece using the old one as a template (and the fabric was recycled too from a friend’s kind donation of unwanted curtains). Fortunately Luna and Alfi (who appears to be headless in the photo) were around to comfort test the fabric.

Dining Chair Seats (6)

A staple gun frenzy followed.

Dining Chair Seats (10)

Now we have six fancy new dining chairs…who wants to come round and help wear them out?!

Dining Chair Seats (13)

Pan Fried Sea Bream with Asian Style Noodles

Is it because it’s Lent, or I’m Down By the Sea, or because Spring keeps teasing me that I am cooking and enjoying lots of gorgeous fish? Who knows, who cares….!

The recipe is more for preparing the noodles than the fish which was simply lightly pan-fried in olive oil and sprinkled in sea salt and then drizzled with a little extra olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. I haven’t given many details for quantities, you know how much you can eat!

Sea Bream & Asian Noodles (3)

Ingredients

  • Fresh or dry noodles
  • A mixture of chopped, sliced, slithered veg….I used chopped broccoli, sliced peppers, finely chopped spinach leaves and thin slithers of carrot (I used my peeler)
  • About a teaspoon of fresh ginger, grated
  • 2 or 3 fat cloves of garlic, crushed
  • Half a teaspoon of Chinese five spice powder
  • A few splashes of fish sauce (go easy, it’s strong)
  • Soy sauce to taste
  • Sesame oil for stir frying
  • A couple of fresh chillies, thinly sliced

This is a three pot cooking session, sorry, but it’s quick! Put the water on for your noodles and heat the oil for the fish in a large frying pan. Now add a little sesame oil (you may want to do half vegetable or sunflower oil as it has a strong taste) in a wok or frying pan.

Using all three of your hands and arms, drop the noodles into the boiling water and cook until almost done. Turn the heat off at this point and give one of your arms a rest. At the same time fry the bream lightly on both sides and stir fry the veg, spice, garlic and ginger for about 4-5 minutes. It all comes together at once.

Sea Bream & Asian Noodles (1)

Drain the noodles and add to the vegetables, adding the fish sauce and soy sauce and stir fry for another minute. Plate the noodles and vegetables up, artistically place your fish on top and sprinkle with chilli if using. Use two hands for your cutlery and your third for drinking wine and dabbing genteelly at your mouth.  Or you could just give yourself a pat on the back.

Smoked Cod & Butterbean Stew

Lent is a time in Catholic countries of preparation for the celebration of Easter. Believer or not, it also means a few changes to diet in Andalucía with a reduction in meat heavy meals and a focus on vegetables, pulses and fish. A typical dish during this period is Potaje de Semana Santa, Holy Week Stew, which is typically made with chick peas (or a mix of chick peas and giant white beans) and salt cod. I was sure I had previously given you a recipe for this, but alas I have been remiss. Fortunately, Giovanna over at Blue Jellybeans, has done the honours, do check it out!

Smoked  Cod & Butterbean Stew (4)

As we’re still in the UK, and the weather has turned icy again, it was time to reinterpret this classic dish using ingredients available locally to me here.  We were pleased with the results and it’s definitely a dish that can be eaten any time of year, not just Lent.

The ingredient list is simple, but the slow cooking turns this into a beautifully flavoured dish.

Ingredients (to serve 4 as a main course)

  • 2 cups of dried butterbeans
  • 1 head of garlic
  • A bay leaf
  • 1 large fillet of fresh cod (I used smoked but unsmoked would also be good) flaked into chunks
  • 2 cups approx. of finely chopped fresh spinach or kale
  • A pinch of saffron (or half a teaspoon of turmeric)
  • 3 cloves (optional)

Start by soaking the beans in water with a pinch of bicarbonate of soda overnight. The next day drain them, cover well with water, add all the ingredients except the fish and spinach and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for a couple of hours (or cook in a low heat in the oven for about 4 hous as I do) until the beans are really tender. Just before serving remove the garlic, bay leaf and cloves (if using), add the cod and spinach and cook on a medium heat. Stir a little to break up some of the beans and thicken the soup. Season with salt to taste.

Smoked  Cod & Butterbean Stew (1)

Serve with a drizzle of fresh olive oil.

If you want more Lenten recipes, take a look at Chgo John gorgeous Grilled Salted Cod recipe or my Parpuchas (Salt Cod Fritters) from last year.

PS. I have jsut come across a company that supplies (in the UK) some Spanish ingredients. Here’s the link (they haven’t paid me for this) but have just ordered the ingredients for Fabada Asturiana from them, so am hoping they’ll be good.

Giant Cous Cous with Red Peppers and Pomegranate Molasses

Giant Couscous with Peppers & Pomegranate Molasses (1)

My new best friend, Yotam Ottolenghi, mentions giant cous cous (or Mograbieh) more than once in his cookbooks. I was keen to try it and surprised to come across it in a local supermarket.

Cooking instructions vary, I expect, from make to make but generally it seems to be cooked very much like pasta (i.e. boiled) and not like the traditional cous cous I am more familiar with.

I cooked mine in vegetable stock and left it quite “wet” when done, then mixed it with chopped roasted peppers, flaked almonds, some olive oil and lemon juice, salt & pepper and a tablespoon of pomegranate molasses.  I served mine with a grilled steak and some avocado. It was a great side dish. I think with other flavours or vegetables it would make a lovely vegetarian main or a filling salad dish.

Giant Couscous with Peppers & Pomegranate Molasses (4)

Would I buy it again? In all honesty, unless it was on special offer, probably not, I think I’d rather have pasta or cous cous and not pasta type cous cous, but I’m glad I tried it.

Maybe I’m just an old fashioned girl at heart…

Baked Skate with Oven Roasted Vegetables

Baked Skate (4)

Regular readers of this blog may well know that at home Up our Mountain or in our (now soon to be) second home Down by the Sea (well, I’m working on that phrase…give me more time) we have a passionate love for eating fish. Fish Man provides for us Up the Mountain and Fishmonger does the job Down by the Sea.

Skate is also a regular favourite and it’s usually pan fried in my biggest pan possible. The other day I was busy glossing paintwork but wanted to get dinner on the go. Not wanting to stand over a pan for all of ten minutes, I decided to turn on the oven and get cooking.

Ingredients for 2 people

  • 1 skate wing cut into two pieces
  • 1 large lemon thinly sliced
  • A selection of vegetables for roasting (I used courgettes, peppers, onions, tomatoes and garlic)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Set the oven to about 180C degrees or medium.  Start by coating your vegetables (cut into chunks or strips) in a little olive oil and season them. Put into a deep baking tray.  Add a favourite herb if you like – I used thyme. Roast for 20 minutes then lay the skate on top, season it and then drizzle a little more oil over and lay the lemon slices over the fish. Cover with foil and continue to cook for another 20 minutes.

Check that it is cooked by prodding with a sharp knife in the centre (the flesh should be cooked all the way through in the thicket part). If it’s still a little raw (this will depend on the thickness of your fish) put it back in for another 5 minutes and check again.

You will have a lot of delicious juices in the pan which you can drizzle over but you will have extra which can be saved (freeze if not using within 2 days) and used another day for cooking with rice to make a delicious paella or as a stock for a fish soup.

Healthy, low fat, delicious. And plenty of time to jump under the shower and wash that paint out of your hair.