Sad Thoughts, Happy Thoughts

Sometimes life throws you something unexpected, unwanted even. This last week has been like that. We were hit with sad news this week, news without too much hope regarding a beloved member of Big Man’s family.

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We cancelled our holiday, family comes first, and where there is life there is hope. I am sure you understand, most of us have been touched by ill-health and all that it brings within our circle of loved ones.

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Luckily we know that we have a big and loving family unit to help each other through these very difficult days. Through the darker days still to come. There is always light at the end of  the tunnel. It has been a good time for us though to reflect on what we have, what is good in our lives. Time to breath deeply of the mountain air and appreciate the good health that we have, to take a moment to remember not to take it for granted.

Let’s move away from these sad thoughts for a while, join us on a walk close to our nearest village as the sun is setting, it’s about 9pm, the heat of the day is a close memory, and the fresh night air is still a promise to be fulfilled.

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The sun sets on the little chain of mountains known here as “Los Pirineos del Sur” – the Pyrenees of the South. A little ambitious and grandiose, but we’re proud of our little mountains.

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We walk by the river bed which is dry now, but will be flowing with cold clear water in the winter months.

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We walk across the old bridge which is no longer used by carts or donkeys, but is so much prettier than the new tarmac one.

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A little look at the village before heading back to the car, and home. Bad days can also be good days. And every day brings the promise of a better one tomorrow.

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(Please excuse the washed out quality of the photos – I took them on my little camera and the light was fading. And apologies for not visiting you and commenting as much as usual, I hope you will understand).

Pasta with Cabbage, Sage and Breadcrumbs

Well, anchovy and garlic too, plus a little parmesan at the end but it’s not such a snappy title that way. Big Man came home from one of his little excursions with a beautiful cabbage. I think in England they are called Spring cabbages, the lighter green ones with very tight leaves.

Pasta With Cabbage & Breadcrumbs (1)

We enjoy it simply shredded and cooked for a few moments until wilted and then served cold with vinaigrette. But this was a whole lot of cabbage and I needed to find other ways to use it. I remembered a lovely Italian pasta dish made with Cavolo Nero (Tuscan Kale) and decided to make something similar.

If you prepare everything before you start cooking it’s quick to pull together, you just need to work methodically and in the time it takes for your pasta to cook (well, dried pasta at least) you’ll have a beautiful meal ready to take to the table.

Ingredients (per person, just multiply per number of diners but don’t worry about being too exact)

  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 6 fresh sage leaves
  • About 100g finely shredded cabbage
  • About 50g fresh white breadcrumbs
  • 2 fat cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 2-4 tinned anchovies (omit for a vegetarian version)
  • Parmesan Cheese
  • Your choice of pasta

Start by putting the water for the pasta on to boil and then blanching the shredded cabbage until it wilts. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon and drain, add your pasta to the water and, as long as you have your other ingredients prepared, you can get on with pulling the rest of the dish together.

Heat two thirds of the oil and when it is very hot drop the sage leaves in and cook for about 30 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

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Now add your fresh breadcrumbs and with the oil still on high, move them around in the pan (it helps to use a deep frying pan or wok for this dish) until they start to turn golden. Remove from the pan and put them onto a flat dish to cool slightly and crisp up.

Add the remaining oil to the pan and turn the heat down slightly before adding the garlic and anchovies. When the anchovies have “melted” (this won’t take long at all, a minute or so) add the cabbage and turn the heat back up to high. Stir fry for a couple of minutes (you can allow the edges to brown a little if you like) then add most of the breadcrumbs, reserving some to sprinkle over the top of the dish.

Drain the pasta and mix it in with the cabbage. It helps to add a tablespoon or two of the cooking liquid, but don’t overdo it.

Sprinkle over the remaining breadcrumbs and crispy sage leaves and serve with plenty of parmesan. Buon appetito!

Big Man and I are heading west on Saturday with the pups for a week in Portugal, the Eastern Algarve to be precise. I’ll try to post once more before we head off but it’s turning into one of those weeks. I know we won’t have internet coverage where we’re staying, but fingers crossed that I’ll be able to get online at some point. So…if I go quiet for a while it’s because I’m eating seafood or bacalao and sipping Portuguese wines whilst watching the sea. I’m sure you’ll understand!

Pak Choi in Oyster Sauce

Summer is here, the vegetable gardens are starting to deliver all around us and the time has arrived for vegetable swapping. Nothing to do with Wife Swapping in Suburbia, oh no, much more interesting (well, I’m guessing) and enjoyable.  This week we’ve been lucky to get a good supply of pak choi (or bok choy).

Pak Choi with Oyster Sauce (4)

Staying with the Asian Food theme, I cooked this quick vegetable dish to enjoy with the Ginger Beef.

Ingredients (serves 2-4)

  • 2 tablespoons groundnut oil (I used olive oil)
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
  • 300g pak choi, washed and cut if necessary to fit in your wok or frying pan
  • 100ml water
  • 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
  • 1-2 teaspoons fish sauce

Heat the oil on high and stir fry the garlic for 30 seconds, add the pak choi and continue to stir fry for about 2 minutes (or until it begins to wilt). Add the water, bring to the boil and continue to cook on high for a couple more minutes, turning the vegetable to cook evenly.

Reduce the heat and remove the pak choi to a serving dish, leaving the liquid in the wok. Add the remaining ingredients, stir and turn up to high to reduce a little. Pour the sauce over the vegetables and serve.

Recipe from Gok Cooks Chinese.

Ravioli Making – Fun on a Hot Summer’s Evening

Some things are more fun when done with pals. Ravioli making is one of them. Just ask Chgo John.  Luckily my lovely neighbour Denise was willing to give up a few hours of her time and we had an evening of ravioli making and eating in the garden.

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We made four kinds of fillings.

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Potato with caramelised onion and parmesan, mixed mushrooms with spinach and nutmeg, ricotta with lemon zest and coriander and mascarpone with rocket and sun-dried tomatoes.

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No quantities except to say we made pasta with 500g of flour and 5 eggs. This made about 70 ravioli (with some leftover dough too), although we didn’t manage to eat them all. We did give it our best shot though!

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We were well lubricated with wine as I believe it is actually illegal to make ravioli without a glass or two to hand.

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We served some with tomato sauce and others more simply with olive oil and parmesan.

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Summer cooking, summer eating. Everything tastes better eaten outdoors on a hot summer’s night don’t you think?!

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(I know they’re not the best shots in the world but they were “working” snaps and it got darker and darker as the evening went on – naturally – I hope you enjoy the atmosphere of the evening as much as we did despite this!)

Sewing Sunday – Fifties Franken Frock

Morning! Hope you are all having a wonderful weekend.  Just a quickie from me today, another of my little sewing projects.

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This summer dress is made from a beautiful vintage fabric I bought in a second-hand shop in Hastings Old Town over a year ago, when we were house hunting in the UK. The shop sells bric a brac, crockery, books etc and I just happened to ask if there was any fabric tucked away. Luckily for me the owner told me that a man had come in that morning with a suitcase full of fabrics he had found when clearing out his late mother’s effects. He believed the fabric had been purchased in the 1950s and then never used. What a find, I snapped it all up.

I was happy to think that I could turn this beautiful, summery fabric into a Happy Dress, I hope the original purchaser would have approved.

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The dress is a bit of a Frankenstein, in that it has been made up from parts of different patterns. The top of my Vogue Going to the Wedding Dress and the skirt (with some added pleats) and pockets of my recently made Tiramisu.

I know I will enjoy wearing this dress the whole summer through.

Stir Fried Beef with Ginger

A recent discovery is that our local “Big” supermarket sells packs of thin beef steaks. Ok, it may not be a patch on what we can get in England, but for dishes that require quick cooking, it’s tender and surprisingly tasty.

You may recall I recently made the “acquaintance” of Mr Gok Wan and his cooking and his book travelled back with me to Spain. Sudden temperature highs of around 30 degrees mean it’s time for food that is quickly prepared and cooked.

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I served this beautifully fragrant beef dish with pak choi (or bok choy), but more of that another day. If you invest a few minutes (or ten) in getting everything ready, the cooking is quick and ready to serve in just a few minutes. I had to make some adaptations, as ever, and Big Man asked if this was “Cocina Ibero-Chino” (Spanish-Chinese Cooking). I am sure that if had used sesame oil and carrot (which were the things I had to substitute) it would have been even more delicious, but as we didn’t have a scrap left over, I think it was a success!

To serve 2

  • About 4 tablespoons of cornflour
  • Salt and pepper (the recipe calls for white, I used black
  • About 300g steak (the recipe calls for sirloin, I think mine is called “flash fry)
  • Oil for frying (original recipe says groundnut, I used olive oil)
  • 4cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 3 spring onions, chopped
  • 1 medium carrot peeled and cut into matchsticks (I used a small courgette)
  • 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil (I used olive oil)
  • 1-2 teaspoons rice or cider vinegar

Coat the meat strips in the cornflour and seasoning and fry in a hot wok or frying pan until browned. I did this in batches. Remove and place on kitchen paper.

Wipe the pan and add a little more oil then add the ginger, garlic, spring onions and carrot. Fry on high for a minute or two until the edges of the onions start to brown a little. Add the soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, vinegar, a pinch of pepper and about 3 tablespoons of water and cook until the sugar has dissolved. Taste and adjust the flavours to your liking (I added a little more vinegar as I found it quite sweet).

Add the beef into the pan and gently mix into the sauce. Remove from the heat and (optional) garnish with chili flakes.

A beautiful dish, aromatic and quick to prepare.

For another beautiful Chinese Beef dish, check out Mandy’s Shanghai Steak over at The Complete Cookbook.

Chargrilled Squid and Courgette

Now that I’m back Up the Mountain I am enjoying catching up with some of my cookery books. A favourite chef/author of mine is Rick Stein, I love the simplicity of most of his recipes and his passion for fish and the sea. In fact, he’s my imaginary chef boyfriend…a man who like to cook fish and used to have a Jack Russell. What more could a girl want?

Ok, enough of my middle aged fantasies and onto a simple recipe inspired by one from his book Fruits of the Sea.

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Ingredients (to serve 2 as a main course or 4 as a starter)

  • 4 small squid cleaned but left whole
  • 1 large courgette cut into thick strips
  • 1 small chili finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of crushed garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Salad

Marinate the squid in the oil, chili and garlic for about 30 minutes and cook on the barbecue (or in a very hot griddle pan) until slightly charred. While the squid is cooking, brush the courgette with a little olive oil and barbecue alongside it.

Make up a salad with the freshest ingredients and a vinaigrette with lemon juice in place of vinegar and add some grated lemon zest to it.

Cut the squid into bite sized pieces and serve it with the courgette on top of the salad. Pour a glass of wine, put your sunglasses on and pretend that it’s sunny….because here it’s been doing a very good impression of not being summer for the last few weeks.