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Road Trip

1 May

Time to leave England for a few weeks and head back Up the Mountain.

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The  kilometers flying past through French fields of gold.

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A pit stop in Spain and time to explore the beautiful little town of Aranda de Duero.

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Then home, to amazing skies. Time to reconnect with our Spanish family and friends. Happy May Day to you all!

Ciao ciao

1 Apr

I’ve not written for a while, it’s been hard to find the words, so I’ll keep it simple and short. My very beloved dad, Papà to me, died on 24th February while on holiday with my mum in Spain. Born in Italy,  lived in England,  and died in Spain. A true European if ever there was one.

He was a wonderful man, a loving husband to my mum for over 53 years, a fantastic dad and a great son-in-law to my grandparents who shared a home with my parents for most of my parents’ married life. We had a service and a celebration of his life in Bexhill and shared laughter and memories with so many friends and family whose lives he had touched.  A wonderful tribute to him.

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FRANCO RUSSO

1935 –  2017

Now it’s time to think about the future, not with regret or fear but with some sadness, of course, a smile and many thanks for the person he was and the person he helped me to become.

I’ll be back soon…

 

 

 

 

 

Where did January go?!

26 Jan

Normally a quiet month, a little flat after the excesses of Christmas. Not so here, it seems to have been busy and bright….and I’m not complaining.

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We have been pretty good about eating lighter, and eating less meat, but I have turned to an old standby favourite this month. Tray baked chicken  (although I used an oven dish!).

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It’s a quick dish to throw together using whatever is nestled in the fridge and although I mostly use skinned, bone-in chicken joints, it’s great with fish fillets or just veggies.

Peel and chop potatoes into large pieces, add vegetables like peppers, courgettes, tomatoes, carrots and a full head of garlic. I haven’t given quantities as this dish is great for one, two or a dozen people. Just judge how much your crowd will eat, add a little extra as they will always want to go back for more, and find an oven dish or tray to fit the quantity.  Put all the ingredients into the dish, preheat the oven to about 180 degrees.  Pour over some olive oil, season with coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper then customise any other seasoning to whatever takes your fancy. This time I used some dried oregano from our garden in Spain, a little smoked pimentón and half a finely chopped lemon.

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Mix together well, hands work best for this to ensure everything is well coated, and add a good slug of white wine,  stock or water.  Cover tightly with foil bake for about an hour then remove the foil and bake for about 20 minutes more until everything is starting to brown nicely. If you want to add some tender vegetables (I used some chopped kale) stir into the dish about 10 minutes before you’re finished. Then it’s  straight to the table, perfect one pot cooking!

We’ve been enjoying the winter sunshine and taking walks along Bexhill beach.  Then a quick trip across the channel to stock up on wine (stocks were dangerously low) and a lovely night in Le Touqet were enjoyed last weekend.

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And little Alfi,  one of our pups, has started on a course of hydrotherapy to build up his leg muscles after an operation on his hind leg in November to repair a damaged cruciate ligament.

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He’s not a water loving dog so is highly unimpressed with being put into a warm pool then shampooed and blow dried afterwards. I’d be delighted at the opportunity of such pampering but there’s just no pleasing some pups….!

I’ve been cooking and have some recipes to share with you soon, but in the meantime, enjoy the last few days of the month.

Feeling Fishy…

9 Jan

Regardless of where we are, Up the Mountain or Down by the Sea, we have access to fantastic seafood. Like many other folk we want to take a few weeks of eating menus that are a little lighter, and going down the fish and vegetable route works for us. We already enjoy pulses, so many meals are meat free, like our much loved lentils (minus the chorizo, or maybe just a little as we’re not being super strict, just making an effort!).

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New Year’s Eve was a very luxurious lobster and prawn platter with bubbles. Grapes and cava, Spanish style at 11pm to ring in the Spanish midnight and champagne and fireworks from London’s South Bank at midnight.

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Skate with prawns, capers and lemons featured another night (we just combined two favourite ways of cooking it…skate with capers and skate with prawns). Absolutely delicious and so quick and easy.

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Tonight was a version of a Spanish dish of prawns with mushrooms with plenty of garlic. Gambas y setas con ajos (setas are oyster mushrooms, but I used chestnut mushrooms this time). Chop your favourite mushrooms into bite sized pieces and stir fry quickly in some olive oil (I cooked in my wok) when they are just turning brown add some peeled, sliced garlic and a little chopped fresh parsley.  When the garlic starts to take on some colour, add some raw, peeled prawns. As soon as they have turned pink, season with coarse sea salt and a little pimentón and add a splash of white wine. Another 30 seconds in the hot pan and you are ready to dish up. Sprinkle with more parsley and serve with some lovely crusty bread to mop up the delicious juices.

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Whatever your plans for this month are, be happy! Don’t be hard on yourself if you break those resolutions made in a moment of madness, better still…throw them out the window and celebrate the fact that we’ve made it into another year…and let’s see what it brings. Happy New Year to you all.

When life gives you pomegranates…

15 Nov

Big Man was born in the beautiful province of Granada. In Spanish, the word Granada means “pomegranate”. The capital city is decorated with many pomegranate symbols from stone bollards to metal work and even man hole covers. Just over the border where our little home is, in the province of Málaga we get to enjoy the real thing in the shape of fruit. The pomegranate plant (which grows into a sizeable tree) produces stunning red flowers, similar to a hibiscus, which then become the beautiful and delicious fruit.

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We’re pretty spoiled as when it’s pomegranate season many neighbours gift them to us. Huge,  beautiful, deep red on the outside, sweet, juicy and ruby coloured jewels on the inside. In England we have to buy them. Sometimes we get lucky and one or two of the little fruits will be sweet, but they’re never quite the same…or as big! You never know what a pomegranate is going to taste like until you get to taste it. And as for peeling a pomegranate…I’ve tried every new way.

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To make the most of a less than sweet fruit, I came across a wonderfully simple recipe using chicken and ras-el-hanout. The slightly acid taste works well with the warm, rose-scented spice. And I’m sharing with you another way to peel a pomegranate. Cutting it in half and bashing it has never worked for me. Usually I end up with a worktop covered in juice and the little pips of fruit stubbornly refusing to drop out. This method still involves a little work separating the pips but it does seem to make the whole job a little easier and much less messy.

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Ingredients (to serve 4 as a main course)

  • 8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs,  diced into bite sized pieces
  • 1 onion (red, if you have it) peeled and finely chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic peeled and sliced
  • 2 rounded tablespoons of ras-el-hanout
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 500ml chicken stock
  • 350g bulghar wheat
  • The fruit of a small pomegranate
  • About 2 tablespoons of finely chopped mint, to serve
  • Olive oil for frying

Toss the chicken in half the spice mix and fry in a little olive oil until beginning to brown. Add the onion and garlic to the pan and continue to fry gently until the onion becomes transparent. Add the remaining spice mix and season lightly. Fry for a minute then pour in the stock.

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Bring to a simmer and cook for about 25 minutes. Add the bulghar, stir, turn the heat off and cover the pan. Leave to stand for about 15 minutes when the stock will have been absorbed. Check the seasoning and adjust if necessary. Stir through the pomegranate and garnish with the fresh mint.

An easy dish with just a few ingredients. Unless you’re still doing battle with your pomegranate…

If you enjoy the challenge  of pomegranate peeling, take a look at this lovely recipe using lamb and quince. Note the difference in colour of the fruit in this recipe which was made with a pomegranate bought back from Spain compared to the one in the photos above!

Three months…

6 Oct

That’s an awfully long time to have been quiet on the blog.  Far too long! Excuses? Oh I have plenty of those! Six weeks in Spain with no Internet access (thank you Iberbanda for a spectacular cock up), then we got back to England and started ripping our own house apart…finally.

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There was very little of great excitement going on in  the kitchen, partly because we don’t really have a kitchen right now and partly because I was on the “dull and boring food” diet prior to having my gall bladder removed on Monday.

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So now I am reclining, not in splendour as our house looks just about as bad as it will ever get, but comfortably.  I am remembering a few days of escape to beautiful Asturias (and you can read more about a previous trip here), and dreaming of the delights I can cook and enjoy once the kitchen  is in and I’m back racing around again in my usual rude health.

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I can’t promise to be back all that soon, but please do wait for me, I  miss your company!

La Mancha and Windmills

12 Jul

Our drive from the south coast of England to almost the south coast of Spain involves a journey of 2200km. A long way. We’ve made the trip many times now and are familiar with the route, the best places to stop for a coffee, or to sit and eat some of our mammoth picnic. We know where we can stop to stretch our legs and let the pups have a little run around, and we know which hotels are dog friendly. What we’re still learning about are some of the beautiful places we used to drive past at speed, cities, towns and villages which previously were just names on the map.

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Instead of driving the route in 2 long, hard days, we now take 3 or 4 days and pick new places to stop and enjoy. We’ve loved Bordeaux, Biarritz and Burgos. This time we pulled off the motorway south of Madrid, pretty much slap bang in the middle of Spain to explore a little of La Mancha.

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It’s a province which is famed for its cheese,  Manchego, which takes its name from the province in which it is made.

It’s also famous for its Windmills, which became well known through the work of 17th Century Spanish writer, Miguel de Cervantes and his book Don Quixote. Not too long after meeting Big Man I celebrated a birthday in Spain and one of his sisters presented me with this great tome  (great in all senses of the word, it’s a thick old book!) in Spanish. I confess I still have to read it,but am reassured by many Spaniards that they have only read parts of it as part of the school curriculum.

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The tale is of a Spanish nobleman and his adventures with his trusty sidekick (a simple farmer) who sets out to restore the art of chivalry with many mishaps along the way.  One of his adventures involves Don Quixote battling the Windmills,  believing them to be ferocious giants. The province has invested money in restoring many of the old windmills,  which were used to produce flour, and they are a popular tourist attraction, visible from a great distance.

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The town of Consuegra has a marvellous collection of restored mills which are situated on top a hill and give amazing views of the 12th century castle and the town below.

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Despite the heat being in the high 30s, and not being able to go into the palace, as dogs were not allowed to enter, we enjoyed the dramatic views and the beauty of the mills and the vast plains below.

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Temperatures here in Andalucía are high, and just now, sitting in the heat without the slightest hint of a breeze, I find myself smiling at the memory of the gusts of cool air back on that hilltop in La Mancha.

¡Buenos días! Good morning from Up the Mountain!

1 Jul

It’s been a while.  Life has been hectic but last night we arrived after a 3 day drive across France and Spain. Time to catch up with some Spanish administration, family time and hopefully some sunshine and relaxing too. Watch this space….

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Moroccan Spiced Chickpea Stew

9 May

Regular readers will know that in our house, pulses rule supreme and we often bring supplies of chickpeas and lentils grown locally in Spain, over to England. In a tidying up frenzy the other day (family are visiting from Spain soon!) we came across further supplies that we had forgotten about. Result.

I decided to try something different from our regular Puchero and came across various recipes using Moroccan inspired spices which I adapted to suit us. I included chicken in this version, but I feel sure that you could quite happily leave it out which would give you an amazing vegan main course dish.

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Feel free to play with the spices, next time I’ll double the harissa to give more of a kick. I used my slow cooker but this could easily be cooked (covered) in a low oven, braised gently on the hob or even in a pressure cooker (although I don’t own one so can’t offer any advice on cooking times). If you prefer to use ready cooked, canned beans just skip the soaking stage and use double the volume in the ingredients list which will give you roughly the same quantity as the dried ones after soaking.

Ingredients (to serve 4 as a main course)

  • Approx 400ml of dried chickpeas (measure by volume) soaked overnight in plenty of cold water with a pinch of bicarbonate then drained
  • 4 chicken thighs or drumsticks (optional)
  • Approx 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves of peeled and crushed or chopped garlic
  • 1 level tablespoon of harissa (or chili powder to taste). Use more if you like a little tickle (and who doesn’t?!)
  • 1 teaspoon each of paprika, turmeric and ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons each of ground cumin and cinnamon
  • 1 can of chopped tomatoes (mine was 390g)
  • 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
  • About 220 ml of water (If using a slow cooker, make sure everything is covered by about 2cm of liquid).  You may need to top up with more liquid if cooking in the oven or on the stovetop. Just keep an eye on it and add more hot liquid if necessary.
  • Salt (season after the dish is cooked to help the chickpeas soften when cooking)
  • To serve – a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and some finely chopped radish, coriander and red onion.

Heat the oil gently ad add the onion and garlic. Cover and soften then add the spices and cook (uncovered) until the spices release their aroma.

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Add the chicken (if using) and the tomatoes, tomato puree and liquid. Bring to a boil and cook on high for 10 minutes. Now put everything into whatever you use to cook (casserole dish, slow cooker etc) and cover. I cooked mine on slow in the slow cooker for 6 hours and the chickpeas were soft and creamy with the chicken cooked through and still holding to the bone. Stovetop should take about 2 hours and a slow oven about 4 hours. Add salt to taste once the dish is cooked.

When you’re ready to serve (and it’s even better the next day), ladle into deep bowls and serve with the garnish and your favourite bread. Enjoy!

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PS. Because the photos of the stew weren’t great (although the stew was…photo quality is due to a desire to eat quickly!), I have included some gratuitous shots of a recent walk we took in a Bluebell Wood nearby, do hope you enjoy a little burst of English springtime.

If you enjoy chick peas and North African inspired spices, why not try this soup?

Leche Frita…or Fried Milk

25 Apr

We recently had a lovely Spanish Sunday lunch with family and friends. Lunch on Sunday in Spain, especially when the weather is good and you can cook outside, often means paella. Although it wasn’t warm enough to eat in the garden, we did manage some pre-lunch drinks in the sunshine and we fired up the paella burner to cook outside.

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Starters were typical. Plates of jamón and cheese,  lettuce with anchovies, croquetas and prawns to peel and dip in alioli.

Dessert caused me a little stress.  Not making it, you understand.  Just deciding what to make. Where we come from in Spain doesn’t claim to have the most exciting desserts in the world. Pretty much every restaurant will offer the same selection. Flan (which we know better as creme caramel ). Natilla (a little portion of cold custard with a biscuit similar to what is called a Rich Tea biscuit on top). Arroz con leche (cold rice pudding cooked with cinnamon and sprinkled with cinnamon). Fruit or ice cream. Hmmmm.  Ok, but nothing to get over excited about.  The fruit is usually pretty good and depending on the season you can enjoy figs, melons, peaches, custard fruit, pomegranate and strawberries.  

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Folk seem to get their sugar fix from turrón and the little cakes, pastries and doughnuts served after a meal with coffee. I asked Big Man for advice and he requested Leche Frita which is something his family used to enjoy when he was young. The ingredients are few and cheap. It’s not a sophisticated dish and I was a little unsure as to how my lunch guests would react. I was amazed at how well it went down. They enjoyed the lightness and simplicity of the dish and the delicate flavour of the custard (which is what you make from your milk). If you’re a person who finds stirring risotto therapeutic,  this one’s for you as you can’t make it in a hurry.

Ingredients to serve six to eight people

  • 800ml full fat milk
  • A large slice of lemon zest
  • A stick of cinnamon
  • 80g cornflour
  • 80-100g sugar (this doesn’t need to be very sweet)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • Icing sugar and cinnamon to dust the finished slices of Leche Frita

Pour the milk (reserving about 100 ml and return this to the fridge) into a saucepan with the sugar, lemon zest and cinnamon. Bring almost to boiling point, stirring to dissolve the sugar, remove from the heat then cover and leave to stand for 15 minutes.

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Add the cornflour to the cold milk and dissolve.  Remove the lemon zest and cinnamon from the infused milk and pour in the milk and cornflour. Heat very, very gently, whisking or stirring for about 20-30 minutes. You don’t want the milk to catch and burn while you thicken the milk. It’s ready when it has become very thick.  Run a spoon through the middle of the mixture and if it doesn’t return quickly to the middle of the pan, you’re done!

Lightly oil a shallow square or rectangular dish with some vegetable oil and pour in the thickened milk. Smooth the surface and leave to cool in the fridge for an hour or so. Ideally it will be about 2cm thick.

Prepare a large frying pan with vegetable oil to a depth of about 2cm and heat the oil. Not quite as hot as for cooking chips, but a good medium heat. Have a tray lined with kitchen paper ready and in a bowl put about 4 tablespoons of icing sugar mixed with about half a tablespoon of cinnamon.

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Tip the leche/custard out onto a tray or flat board and cut it into portions (I made triangles) and dip as many will fit into your frying pan in one go into the beaten egg. Make sure the pieces are well coated and put them onto a plate until you are ready to fry your first batch.

Put the egg coated pieces of leche into the hot oil and fry on each side (a couple of minutes) until golden brown. Place onto the kitchen towel and allow to cool while you cook the next batch.

When it’s cool enough to handle, dip each piece in the icing sugar and cinnamon mix. It can be served warm or cold and keeps well in the fridge (covered) for about 48 hours. Don’t expect it to be crispy, this is meant to be soft inside and out.  You can reheat gently in the oven or microwave and sprinkle a little extra icing sugar over to serve. If you want to be a bit grand, make a fruit coulis to dip the pieces into. Lovely as a dessert or teatime treat and very typical of Andalucía.

 

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