Córdoba and its weirdly wonderful soup, Mazamorra

Finally the weather has improved and just as we’re getting into gear to make our way back to England, the sun has come out.

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It’s been a busy month with house repairs but also time to catch up with friends and loved ones and a return to a very favourite city, Córdoba. My bestie came to visit and we took her there for a visit as she had never been. We saw the beautiful Mezquita, now a Catholic cathedral but packed full of Moorish history.

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We also went back to Medina Azahara, declared this week a UNESCO world heritage site. Hopefully that will mean an investment of money to allow more of this amazing first century Arab Muslim city to be excavated.

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Of course, we made sure we ate and drank well and we all tried, for the first time, a chilled Cordoban soup called Mazamorra. Based on very simple ingredients, like many of the gazpachos of Spain, but giving an amazing finished result which we all loved. It’s an incredibly thick and filling dish, we shared one portion in the restaurant and when I made it at home recently, we decided that it would be perfect served in shot glasses as part of a mixed tapas selection.

You don’t need to be too precise about the weight of ingredients, just try to keep roughly to the proportions. But do give it a try, you might be as weirdly and wonderfully surprised by it as we were!

Ingredients (this makes one large bowl of soup which would serve about 8 shot glasses or 4 tiny bowls)

  • Approx 100g stale bread (use the best quality you have as this will greatly influence the flavour of the finished soup e.g. sourdough or ciabatta) soaked in a little water until soft
  • About 35g of blanched almonds
  • A small clove of garlic, peeled
  • Half a teaspoon of fine salt
  • One teaspoon of white wine vinegar
  • About 100 ml of extra virgin olive oil
  • Cold water
  • To garnish – chopped hard boiled egg, some chopped black olives (I didn’t have any) and a drizzle of olive oil

Put the soaked bread, the almonds, garlic, salt and white wine vinegar into a blender (I used a jug and a stick blender) and blend until you have a paste. I added a few drops of water to help things along. Now gradually add the olive oil and keep blending and adding until you have a smooth, thick paste. It should look rather like hummus. Now add a tablespoon of water at a time and keep blending. You want to end up with a mixture rather like custard. Taste and add a little more salt if you need it then chill until ready to serve.

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A useful gift from a generous neighbour

The restaurant we tasted this in was rather fancy and the soup was drizzled with a mango purée, which was delicious.  Traditionally, chopped hard boiled egg and chopped black olives are used. A drizzle of olive oil really works well and serve with crunchy breadsticks for dipping.

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If you’d prefer a more familiar gazpacho, take a look at my recipe, or perhaps you’d enjoy my very favourite, Salmorejo,  which is a chilled tomato and bread soup, also from Córdoba. All delicious, each very different from the other. Buen Provecho!

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Retro Prawn Cocktail

A short while ago we celebrated Mother’s Day in the UK. For some strange reason we celebrate on a completely different day from the rest of the world. Never mind, it’s still a great opportunity to get together, eat, drink and laugh.

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We decided to go for a bit of a retro menu, a throwback to decades past, and enjoyed prawn cocktail, steak and chips and treacle tart with clotted cream and ice cream. Perfect! Because it was such a simple menu, and Big Man was on barbecue duty with the steaks, I had the luxury of time to play with ingredients and to make things a little different.

For the prawn cocktail I made a layered and pretty dish with a cucumber and ginger jelly,  avocado mousse and, of course, a spicy Marie Rose sauce. Sometimes it’s fun to have an eye on the future whilst nodding to the past.

Ingredients (to serve 6 in 6 glass tumblers or serving dishes)

  • 1 sachet of gelatine
  • 1 cucumber peeled
  • A teaspoon of fresh grated ginger
  • A few leaves of fresh mint
  • Salt & Pepper

 

  • 2 ripe avocados
  • 1 heaped tablespoon of cream cheese
  • Salt & Pepper
  • A small iceberg lettuce finely shredded
  • 2-3 cups of small cooked prawns (portion sizes are up to you!)
  • 18-24 large cooked prawns

 

  • 4 tablespoons of home made or good quality mayonnaise
  • 1 generous tablespoon of tomato ketchup
  • A few shakes each of Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco
  • Salt and pepper
  • Smoked pimentón

 

Blend the cucumber, ginger and mint and drain, you only need the juice. Dissolve the gelatine according to the instructions and leave to cool slightly. Add to the cucumber juice, season lightly and add enough water to make up to 600ml. Divide the jelly between the 6 serving dishes and leave to set.

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Blend the peeled avocados with the cream cheese and a little seasoning and either spoon or pipe over the cucumber jelly.

Add a layer of shredded lettuce. Mix the ingredients for the sauce together and adjust the seasoning to taste. Mix in the small prawns and divide between the serving dishes over the lettuce. Finally decorate with the larger prawns and if you’re feeling really adventurous, dust with a little smoked pimentón.

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Pour yourself a glass of your favourite dry white wine and enjoy a little moment back in time.

 

Honey, Ginger, Sultana and Orange Welcome Home Cake

Big Man has been in Spain for a couple of weeks so the day before he returned I cooked some dishes he would enjoy to welcome him home. This included a cake, as a special treat, and it was perfect for sitting around the next day (which was cold and snowy) with some good strong coffee while we had a good old catch up.

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Where there’s cake, there’s usually a dog…

Regular readers of the blog will know that I don’t make many cakes, and when I do I mostly go down the “all in one” route and tend to use olive oil rather than butter. Not for health reasons, but because when I first started living in Spain it was more difficult for me to get hold of good quality butter (and getting it home before it melted in the summer was an adventure in itself). As we produce our own wonderful olive oil each year, it made sense to substitute this for the butter and I soon found that it produced light and delicious cakes…so I simply kept on using it.

This is more of a tea loaf than a sponge cake and would be delicious spread with butter (the best of both worlds! ) although it’s delicious as it is. I baked this in a 23cm x 13cm loaf tin and it cuts into about 12 slices.

Ingredients

  • 100g of sultanas soaked in your favourite tea (I used a ginger tea but Earl Grey would also be fantastic) then drained and cooled
  • 100g chopped candied peel
  • Approx 1 tablespoon of fresh grated ginger
  • 175g self raising flour mixed with ½ teaspoon of salt
  • 60ml olive oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 150g of runny honey

Preheat the oven to 185° fan oven or 195° regular oven and line a loaf tin with greaseproof paper.

Beat the oil and honey together then add the eggs one by one. Mix in the drained sultanas,  candied peel and fresh ginger then mix in the flour and salt. This cake mix is as forgiving as  most of my others, so you don’t need to fold things together or be particularly gentle.

Pour the mix into the prepared loaf tin and bake for approx 45 minutes. Check if it’s done by inserting a skewer and if it comes out clean, you’re done. If it needs a few minutes longer and is beginning to brown, cover with some aluminium foil and give it another five minutes before checking again.

Cool for 5 minutes in the tin before turning out and cooling completely on a rack. Will keep for about 3 days in an airtight container.

If you enjoy citrus flavours, take a look at this Sticky Citrus and Marmalade cake.

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Going, going….nearly gone!

 

 

Pork Vindail

After the Christmas period I find myself once more craving warm and spicy foods. You can’t keep a curry fan down, and I turned to my Rick Stein book, India, for inspiration. The author explains that the word Vindail refers to the fact that it contains vinegar, although I expect it dates back further to the Portuguese “vin d’alho “ which is the origin of the word Vindaloo and refers to the wine (which was then substituted for vinegar in Goan cuisine) and garlic used to make the dish.

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The ingredients for the sauce are meant to serve 4 although I made the dish for 2 people.  I  played around with the quantities but have given details of the original recipe in brackets. The sauce is not too hot,  but of course you can add extra chilli if you like, with a pleasing tang of vinegar which is tempered with the addition of a small amount of sugar.

INGREDIENTS (to serve 2 or 4)

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2cm piece of cinnamon stick
  • 3 cloves (1 clove)
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 medium onion, chopped (2 medium onions)
  • 5 cloves of chopped garlic (10 cloves)
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder (or use your usual hot chilli powder)
  • ½ teaspoon ground fenugreek (toasted ground fenugreek)
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 200g chopped tinned tomatoes plus 1 medium fresh tomato, chopped (500g tomatoes roughly sliced)
  • 2 pork fillets (1kg chicken thighs and drumsticks, on the bone, skinned)
  • 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar

Heat the oil in a deep frying pan and add the cinnamon, cloves and star anise. Fry gently for a minute until fragrant then add the onions. Fry until golden brown but not burnt (about 10-15 minutes). Add the garlic and cumin and fry for a couple of minutes. I added a drop of water as it started to stick. Now add the rest of the spices, fry for a few seconds then add the tomatoes. Once they have started to soften and break down (about 5 minutes) add the meat, stir and cover.

The pork cooked quite quickly, about 10 minutes, so I removed it from the pan and kept it warm then continued to cook the sauce for another 30 minutes. If you’re using chicken, leave it in the sauce to continue cooking. When the sauce has reduced and thickened and the meat is cooked (if using chicken), add the vinegar and sugar and if you’ve used pork fillets or steaks, add them back into the sauce. Cook for a further 5 minutes and you’re ready to serve.

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Chicken and prawn curries

If you prefer a more traditional chicken  curry, take a look at one of my favourite recipes.

Christmas Sweetness

As the big day draws near and we take a little moment to reflect on the year that has passed, I thought I’d take a little moment to thank you all for your kind words, comments and support during what has been a difficult year. Yesterday we celebrated the first of several events without the exuberant, Christmas loving, presence of my father. My brother and his family travelled South to Bexhill on Sea and my mother hosted a family meal. Lots of hard work, a few tears, plenty of laughter, and of course a great deal of good food.

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Not usually much of a dessert maker or eater, you sometimes need to make an exception and Christmas is mine! One of the desserts I made is a great one for anyone who either doesn’t like a traditional Christmas Pudding or forgot to make one. It’s an Italian dish called Zuccotto, and can be made many different ways with little twists of your own. This is a particularly  Christmassy version as it uses panettone and is quickly assembled and feeds a crowd.

INGREDIENTS (to serve about 12 people)

  • 1 panettone (you’ll probably have a little left over to enjoy with a coffee)
  • 750g ricotta cheese
  • 120g icing sugar
  • 3 tablespoons chopped mixed peel
  • Grated zest of 1 orange
  • 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder
  • 3 tablespoons of chopped dates (or use some chopped nuts, or a mix of both)
  • A small glass of marsala or sweet wine or sherry

A round bottomed bowl (about 1.5l) or large pudding basin

Start by mixing the icing sugar into the ricotta then diving the cheese mixture roughly into 2 portions. Stir the mixed peel and orange zest into one portion and the cocoa powder and dates into the other.

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Line the bowl with plenty of cling film, leaving enough overhanging to wrap the base of the pudding (it will be turned out when finished and chilled).

Cut the top and bottom off the panettone so that you have two discs, about 1cm thick, then cut the rest of the loaf into 1cm slices. Put the smaller disc on the base of your bowl and line the sides with overlapping slices. It doesn’t matter if they are taller than the bowl, you can tuck them over at the end. Brush the bread which is now lining your bowl with the marsala, be generous!

Place the orange and mixed peel mix of ricotta into the base of your bowl and then cover this mixture with more slices of panettone. Brush the bread with masala and top with the cocoa and date ricotta. Place the second round on top to make a lid (which will become the base) and tuck over any overhanging bread. If you have any gaps, fill with any scraps of panettone and give it all a final, generous brush of marsala. Wrap the cling film over the top, place a plate on the  bowl and weigh it down leaving it to chill overnight in the fridge.

When you are ready to serve, remove from the fridge about 15 minutes beforehand, peel back the cling film, place a large serving dish over the bowl and tip the dessert out, flipping it over. Dust with cocoa powder and enjoy.

All that remains for me to say is Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad and Buon Natale to you all. May the year ahead bring you health and happiness and I look forward to seeing you all again in 2018.

Ice Cream

If you do fancy making a more traditional but lighter Christmas Pudding, try this recipe. And don’t forget my Christmas ice cream or my favourite coffee ice cream.

Autumn Labours

When we were based more permanently in Spain, one of the few occasions that Big Man and I  worked together in the kitchen was for the autumn making of Quince Jelly. Practically everyone round our way over there has a couple of Quince trees and come mid October for about six weeks, we were inundated with offers of bags of Quince.

They’re a funny sort of fruit, looking like over sized pears, smelling sweetly perfumed, tasting sour and dreadful if you bite into a raw one, heavenly after cooking gently with plenty of sugar or honey.

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We were walking through Bexhill town centre this morning, where we’re blessed still with small independent traders selling fish, meat, fruit and veg, making curtains, looking after our teeth and eyes and selling us clothes and gifts. Big Man suddenly stopped in his tracks causing a bit of a pile up with me and the two dogs bundling into him, and was sniffing the air like a police tracker dog. “Can you smell that?” he asked excitedly.  Nope…nothing was jumping out at me but I’m recovering from a cold, so hardly surprising.  “Quince, I can smell Quince,  and they must be good if they smell so wonderful”.

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We reversed back up the road a few metres and outside the fruit and veg shop the marvellous sight of a small crate of smooth skinned, golden yellow Quince awaited us. Needless to say,  we snapped them all up (just over 4kgs in total) which the lady in the shop was intrigued by as she didn’t know what they were and was curious to know what we were going to do with them.

We eventually got home lugging our 4kgs of Quince,  a 5kg bag of sugar (we didn’t need that much but it was a bargain) two confused dogs and several library books.

 

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Big Man got straight to work chopping and less than two and half hours later we were done, we’ve got it down to a fine art now. We were sustained during our labours by a very large gin and tonic. He’d bought me back a bottle of Gin Mare  (a new one to us) from duty free, flavoured with olive, thyme, rosemary and basil. Absolutely delicious but very strong!

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Tomorrow we’re going to take a little tub of our Quince jelly, or dulce de membrillo to the lady in the shop so that she can try it with some cheese. Hopefully she’ll enjoy it as much as we do and if you’d like to give it a go, follow this link for the recipe which can be scaled down easily, or you could make this delicious crumble, or this incredible savoury lamb dish.

Vietnamese crab with tamarind sauce

I love reading cookery books, mainly to inspire rather than follow slavishly. Except when it’s a style of cooking that’s new to me or a cake recipe which generally needs the proportions of ingredients to be reproduced in balance with each other to achieve a good rise.

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I’ve had time recently to catch up on some tv watching and have been enjoying a series from about 2009, Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey. Coincidentally, I was also given a copy of the book which a pal passed on to me. Serendipity or what? I was particularly interested in the first two chapters, Cambodia and Vietnam. They are not countries I’ve ever visited, and apart from an amazing vegetarian Vietnamese meal many years ago eaten with some friends on a trip to Melbourne,  I don’t know very much at all about the food.

I was surprised by the simplicity of some of the recipes,  using few spices or flavourings, but all looking like they would really pack a punch in terms of flavour.  My mum and I decided to cook together and after buying a huge cooked crab from the local fishmonger, we made this beautiful crab with tamarind sauce. When I make it again (and it won’t be long) I’ll use 2 or 3 large crab claws per person rather than whole crab as the type we get here was perhaps not the best suited to this dish. Much as I love eating with my hands and slurping, a lot of the meat in the body cavity was lost in the sauce during the brief cooking and the spindly legs were fun but don’t have a lot of meat. The flavour however was incredible and I’d imagine it would be great too made with large prawns or even scallops.

Ingredients (serves 2 generously)

  • 1kg raw or cooked whole crab, broken up into pieces
  • Vegetable oil for shallow frying
  • 1 tbsp tamarind concentrate
  • 2 tbsp Chinese rice wine
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped finely
  • 1 hot red chilli, finely chopped (or to taste)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons of jaggery  (use soft brown sugar if you can’t get hold of it)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons of fish sauce
  • Some crushed or ground white pepper
  • About three spring onions cut into 2.5cm lengths

If your crab is raw you’ll need to shallow or deep fry it for a minute or so until the flesh changes colour. Drain on kitchen towel.

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We’re still picking the last few runner beans from our little garden

Mix the tamarind, rice wine and about 6 tablespoons of water together and set aside.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a wok or large pan. Add the chili and garlic and9 stir fry for about 30 seconds then add the crab, the tamarind mixture, the sugar, the fish sauce and the white pepper. Stir well,  cover and simmer for about 4 or 5 minutes.  Add the spring onions, cover and cook gently for another minute then put it all onto a large serving platter (we served straight from the wok garnished with more spring onion) and get ready to get messy and enjoy!

Waves, Woods and Walks

New recipes are few and far between right now, we’re just enjoying old favourites. As we move from what was really not a bad British summer into a typical autumn (hot and sunny one day, grey and drizzly the next) we’re enjoying lots of walks around Bexhill.

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Time to share some of the walks we enjoy. First of all, the beach at Bexhill. We live just a few minutes walk from the main “prom” or promenade. During certain times of the year, dogs have to be kept on lead so we head off westwards to and area called South Cliff where they can  run off lead. It’s always full of dog walkers and at weekends families with young children, cyclists, older folk and everyone in between who enjoy this car free paved walk. If you keep walking,  you reach a little local landmark, a sculpture made from driftwood by a local artist of “Salty Sam and Seawater Sally”.

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Sadly, it has been vandalised in the past, but now people seem to like to stop and leave pebbles with messages written on them. It’s always changing,  a living sculpture.

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If we head Eastwards, we go towards and gentle slope and grassy area by the beach called Galley Hill. We can enjoy views in one direction towards Eastbourne and Beachy Head and in the other direction Hastings.

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A Peace Pole was erected near the top of the hill earlier this year and links Bexhill-on-Sea with every other place on earth that has participated in the project.

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If we keep walking east, we can follow a coastal path all the way to Hastings, but the dogs are always more interested in exploring than covering great distances!

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When the wind  is howling, or it’s a hot, hot day, it’s fun to head off into the woods. Within driving distance we have large areas of woodlands, but just on the edge of town we have Collington Woods, a small woodland area, beautifully preserved and maintained. Great for sheltering from the wind or heat.

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Of course, once we get home, we generally need feeding and a slow cooked Chilli con Carne hits the spot on a chilly autumn day…

Sunshine, Flowers and Beans

The English summer is unpredictable. Some beautiful days with perfect heat and a gentle seaside breeze. Then days of rain, wind and the thought that maybe, just maybe, we need to turn the central heating on.

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Then we hear from family in Spain that it’s in the forties and it’s too hot to even think, so we feel blessed and happy to be Down by the Sea with our English weather.

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Our runner beans are loving days of sun followed by heavy rain. Another positive for us and we’re enjoying the fruits (and flowers) of our little garden. I do miss our vegetable garden though…oh those tomatoes!

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Dinner the other night was a simple salmon en croute.  Roasted vegetables were cooled then placed on top of a tail fillet, wrapped in puff pastry, brushed with beaten egg and roasted for about 25 minutes.  Perfect with those beautiful beans.

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Happy summer to my northern hemisphere friends and happy winter to those in the south!

Slow Cooked Cuban Style Pork

Long slow cooked dishes usually make me think of the cooler months, but using the slow cooker means the kitchen doesn’t get all hot and steamy, and I don’t get all hot and bothered. And with a little planning, if you need to use the oven,  head out for a few hours to enjoy the sunshine  and come home to a delicious meal!

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I bought a shoulder of pork the other day, a not expensive cut of meat which goes a long way with a little crowd, or it can be used for a few meals when it’s just the two of us. I’d seen a few recipes for Cuban Mojo Pork which included the juice of citrus fruits like orange , lemon and lime and the fresh flavours appealed. I also recently discovered a lovely new blog, Iowa Girl Eats. Lots of lovely gluten free recipes for those that don’t/can’t eat gluten, and for others like me who can…just a lot of lovely,  beautifully photographed recipes! This dish follows  her recipe pretty much exactly (thank you Kristin!) and I can highly recommend it. We ate the dish, as she suggested with rice, guacamole and I made some spicy Black Bean dip. Lots of lovely leftovers too, so a win-win situation.

Ingredients (to serve 6 approx)

  • Pork shoulder  (about 2kg), skin removed
  • 3/4 cup chicken stock or water
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 cup each of lime and lemon juice
  • 1 red onion, finely sliced
  • 1 hot chili (cut open but left whole)
  • 1 whole head of garlic, cloves separated and peeled
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 or 2 teaspoons of dried oregano 
  • 1/2 teaspoon each of dried cumin and smoked pimentón 
  • 2 bay leaves

Put all the ingredients into the slow cooker and cook on low for about 10 hours. The meat should shred easily (like pulled pork) or you can leave it in chunks. I put the pork shoulder in whole but you can cut into  large chunks if it fits better into your pot that way.

If cooking in a conventional oven, I’d recommend cutting the pork into about four or six pieces, using a cup and a half of chicken stock and cooking on low for about 3 hours. Check the liquid half way through,  you may need to add more as you want the final dish to be juicy with some of the lovely sauce it creates to spoon over.

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Serve with whatever you fancy. I make my guacamole by mashing a large ripe avocado then adding in some finely chopped spring onion, a finely chopped ripe tomato,  finely chopped coriander and chili and seasoning.

If you enjoy slow cooked pork dishes, check out my Chinese Style Slow Cooked Pork.

PS. Am playing around with a “new look” on the blog. Let me know what you think, all criticism happily accepted! And if anyone knows how to add a “search” button to the top of the page, I’d love to know how…