Vegetarian Hot and Sour Soup

Much as I enjoy a blue fillet steak or a bacon sandwich,  there are times when it feels good to lay off the meat and enjoy meals without. This doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice flavour though.  Hot and Sour Soup is perfect for days like these. Filling, warming, and full of exciting flavours. If you want to add cooked chicken or prawns though,  go ahead. Extra vegetables? Go for it!

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This version was inspired by a recipe from a much used and favoured cookbook, Gok Cooks Chinese. Although my predictive text called him God. He’s good, but not quite THAT good!

Ingredients (to serve 4 generously)

  • 1.5 litres of light, unsalted vegetable stock or use water
  • 50g approx of mushrooms, sliced  (I used chestnut with a few shitake)
  • 1-2 fresh red chillis, finely sliced (or a teaspoon of dried chilli flakes) depending on  how hot you like your soup
  • 50ml light soy sauce
  • Approx 3 heaped tablespoons of thinly sliced bamboo shoots (I used tinned, drained bamboo)
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and very finely sliced then diced
  • 5cm piece of fresh ginger peeled and grated (or use frozen chopped ginger)
  • 3 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and grated or crushed
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 4-6 tablespoons of rice vinegar  (to taste)
  • Optional 2 heaped teaspoons of cornflour dissolved in a little cold water
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • Finely chopped spring onion or chives to serve

Bring the stock to a gentle boil and add the carrot. Simmer for about 5 minutes then add all the ingredients except the cornflour, vinegar,  egg and spring onion.

Simmer for about 10 minutes then gradually add the vinegar, tasting as you go until it reaches a level of sourness you enjoy.

If you prefer a slightly thickened soup, add two heaped teaspoons of cornflour to about 50mls of cold water and add to the simmering soup. Allow to thicken (this will take a minute or two).

Turn off the heat and add the egg, whisking as you do to create fine ribbons of cooked egg. Serve garnished with the finely sliced spring onion and marvel that it was quicker to prepare than ordering and waiting for a takeaway delivery.

(For a gluten free option use tamari instead of soy sauce and omit the cornflour).

Cranberry, Orange and Raisin Cake

Cranberries are not just for cranberry sauce and cranberry juice! And we all know they’re good for us, don’t we?! I love that sour taste of Cranberries, Big Man…less so. Oh dear. But he loves cake, so a perfect compromise is to make cake with cranberries in it. I do love a Win/Win cooking situation.

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This is a cake for people who are not very good with measuring ingredients as they can find the scales but not the old fashioned weights that go with it. It’s good for folk who have trouble finding the mixer or the electric whisk, who then accidentally turn the oven off for 5 minutes while baking a cake thinking they’ve turned the hob off, then open the oven door to see why the light in the oven seems to have stopped working. Yes, that was me, but this cake is like the hardiest Marine in the Cake Corps – nothing can defeat it, it WILL turn out fine no matter how badly you treat it. You can even half drop the tin as you’re turning the cake out – oh yes, I did that too – but it’s probably going to be prettier if you leave that bit out.

Ingredients for one large cake (serves about 12 – 14 slices)

  • 2 ¼ cups of self raising flour
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • The grated zest of one orange and the juice from the orange made up to 1/3 cup with water if there is not enough
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup yogurt
  • ¾ cup of oil (I used a mix of vegetable oil and olive oil)
  • 1 cup fresh cranberries
  • ½ cup raisins (or any other dried fruit you fancy)

Grease and flour a large baking tin. I used an 11” bundt tin, but a 9” square tin would also work well. Set the oven to 175 degrees C.

Mix together the sugar, orange juice, eggs, yogurt and oil. If you can find your electric whisk, go ahead. If not, use a hand whisk with a bit of fury until all the ingredients are well blended.

Not much left...
Not much left…

Add the dry ingredients and mix with a spoon, then stir in the fruit and zest. Pour into the prepared cake tin and bake for 45-50 minutes until the cake is pulling away from the sides of the tin, is browned on top and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.

If you want to top it, mix 8 heaped teaspoons of sifted icing sugar with about 2-3 teaspoons of orange juice (add gradually) until you have a thick pouring paste, and drizzle over.

Make a pot of coffee, cut yourself a good slice of cake, put your feet up and relax…

For another olive oil cake recipe, take a look at my orange and raisin cake.

Little Piggies and Potato Cakes

Near our village in Spain is another village with a restarant run by a lovely lady called Belén. Belén means Bethlehem in English, so although a bit unusual for English speakers, her name is quite apt as we creep up towards the Christmas season. Sorry, I promised myself I wouldn’t mention the C word until well into December and it’s only the 2nd today.

Belén runs a good bar and restaurant with all the usual offerings plus a few slightly different ones. An item on her menu is called “Guarrito” which translated means “little wild boar”. I don’t know if this is a typical dish, we’ve certainly never seen it anywhere else, so of course had to order it. And once ordered, we loved it and often go back for a little tapas of this with a glass of wine. So, what is “guarrito”? It’s simply thick slices of jamón cooked in a little olive oil (and Belén serves them on fried bread which makes them extra naughty and extra nice).

Guarrito (2)

We always said that these little morsels would be fantastic with a fried egg and baked beans, in a Full English Breakfast style. Or as a supper dish. Or any time really. So of course, now we make guarrito at home in England until we can get back to visit Belén again.

To accompany the guarrito I was inspired by Frugal’s Gluten Free Potato Cakes. He uses gram (chick pea) flour instead of regular flour and I pretty much followed his recipe with the addition of some roasted red peppers.

Being the sort of Chica who always cooks army rations instead of regular sized portions, I still had a little mashed potato left the following day, so I made another potato cake to go with some grilled meat and salad.

Ingredients to serve 2

  • About a cup of mashed potato
  • One beaten egg
  • Half a roasted pepper
  • A tablespoon of crème fraiche
  • Salt and pepper

Mix all the ingredients together and then blend with a hand blender or mash thoroughly – the mixture will be quite runny. Don’t panic!

Using a heavy based frying pan, pour in a little oil and get it quite hot. Now pour in the potato mix and turn the heat down. Cook slowly for about 10-15 minutes until it starts to get crispy. If you’re feeling brave slide it out onto a plate and then flip it back into the pan to cook the other side in the same way. For the fainter hearted, pop it under the grill until it starts to brown a little then flip and continue to fry.

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Slide it out into a serving plate and enjoy your potato (pan) cake sliced into portions. Crispy on the outside, creamy soft in the middle. Now how economical and delicious is that?!

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!)

Take One Bag of Flour

I don’t know who discovered that by grinding grains, flour could be produced. And whoever then went on to figure out that by adding simple ingredients like water and air, you could end up with a delicious loaf of sourdough bread. As for pasta, whoever had that great idea of adding an egg and a pinch of salt to make a beautiful silky dough….well, I raise my glass of wine to them.

Not really much of a recipe today, more an acknowledgement that good food doesn’t need to be complicated or sophisticated. Ingredients, as long as they are fresh and good can produce the most incredible tasting meals with just a little effort and time invested. Oh yes, and love. Good food needs to be made with love.

Pasta with Tomato and anchovy sauce (4)

Lunch the other day was a homage to simple ingredients. Home made pappardelle (thick pasta as opposed to thin as the pasta cutting attachment on my machine has died, so I had to cut by hand) served with a (home grown vegetables) tomato and vegetable sauce with anchovies. Home made bread, dipped in our own olive oil and a glass of not home made wine. I’ll leave that to the experts!

Slow Cooked Vegetable Sauce with Anchovies (serves 2-4)

  • 3 cloves of crushed garlic
  • Half a courgette (zucchini) coarsely grated
  • One carrot peeled and coarsely grated
  • One stick of celery, finely chopped
  • Half a red pepper thinly sliced
  • 1 heaped tablespoon of tomato purée
  • 1 cup (or can) or chopped tomatoes
  • Olive oil
  • Seasoning
  • Herbs (I used basil)
  • A small glass of red wine
  • About 4-6 fillets of salted anchovies

Hand Cut Pasta

Start by slowly braising the garlic, courgette, celery, carrot and pepper (but don’t brown them) until they start to soften. Add the tomatoes, the purée, the wine and the herbs and bring to a gentle simmer. Season lightly and cook slowly for about an hour (or longer). If the sauce becomes too thick, add a splash of water. When nearly ready, remove the herbs if you have kept them whole and stir in the anchovies (leave these out if you want a vegetarian dish). Check for seasoning (you probably won’t need more salt) and serve.

Pasta with Tomato and anchovy sauce (3)

Home Made Pasta

I use (per person as a main course) 100g strong plain flour, 1 egg, a tiny splash of olive oil and a tiny pinch of salt. Mix together by hand or in a machine and knead for a few minutes until the dough becomes soft and silky. Leave to rest for 30 minutes. Check out Chgo John’s excellent recipe for more tips and help.

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?!

Prawn and Mushroom Quiche

Now, I know quiche isn´t remotely Spanish, but just think of it as a tortilla in a pastry case!  I have introduced Big Man to quiche over the last few years and it has become a big favourite.

It´s also an easy dish for me to prepare right now with just a few pots and pans at my disposal and (yes, I confess) I used ready made pastry this time.

Remember Clara´s Pastry for my mince pies? Well, here it is again, it´s a very versatile and tasty pastry. And when I´m not being so lazy or covered in dust, I´ll make my own again!

Ingredients for the pastry

  • 200g plain flour
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 50g each of cold butter and lard
  • One egg, beaten
  • Milk

Rub the fat into the flour and salt until it resembles fine breadcrumbs or pulse in a food processor.  Using a broad knife, work the egg into the flour.  Start to gently bring the pastry together with your hands.  You will probably need to add a very little milk but add drops rather than slugs.  Do not knead or overwork the pastry.

Now wrap in plastic and leave to rest in the fridge until you are ready to use it, but bring it up to room temperature first.

Roll it out on a well floured surface and place into your tin, prick the base with a fork and then fill with baking beans or pulses placed on top of greaseproof paper. Trim off any excess and bake at 180ºC for 15 minutes, or until it just starts to brown.

For the filling

  • 5 eggs and 100 ml of single cream beaten together
  • A cup of peeled cooked prawns
  • A cup of thinly sliced mushrooms (lightly sautéed first)
  • Seasoning

Mix all the ingredients together, if your tin is particularly large, add a drop more cream or milk.  Pour into the pastry base and bake for about 25 minutes at 180ºC or until the centre is set.

Remove from oven and eat hot or cold.

Making progress…Making Food

It´s been a while, I´ve missed you all. Lots of news to update you with though.

Work has been going well, the kitchen has now moved on from this…

To this…

Just the final touches to the units (handles, skirting boards), then the wall units to follow. There´s still wall tiling to go but … pah…easy peasy compared to some of the things we´ve been doing.

Of course, when you have a hob and an oven (as of yesterday) you can COOK!! Oh what joy to have a relatively dust free area to prepare meals that are not sandwiches filled with cement or fried eggs lightly dusted with sawdust.

Supper was a simple meal of grilled lamb chops sprinkled with Malvern sea salt and a squeeze of lemon juice, with rice mixed with garlic mushrooms. It was nothing complicated but with a good glass of wine it tasted like the food of the gods.

Lunch today was a sharing platter (we have a lot of those as it means less washing up, very important when you´ve had to wash up with cold water in a bucket!). Good old tortilla, a leftover corn cob and some salami from home with a little salad made with sweet juicy local tomatoes.

Hopefully soon I´ll be able to get a little more adventurous in the kitchen, and we´re not talking about power tools here.  So…a little more news which may leave some of you wondering if we both need to get our heads examined. Things have gone so well, and we have learned so much…we´re going to do it all over again when we´ve finished this house. Yes, you heard right. Just around the corner from this house was another one crying out for some love and attention. It has a very similar scary carpet but we´ve learnt not to fear the shag pile.

It´s been more recently modernized…we´re talking some time during the late 1970s as opposed to the early 1960s in the current house, so a little less work. But not much.

No…your eyes do not deceive you…that´s a downstairs bathroom coming off the “oh so modern” kitchen.

We´re getting the internet installed though, so cross your fingers, toes and eyes for us and hopefully in about a week I´ll be chatting away to you all in my usual fashion and hopefully doing a bit more talking about cooking and a little less about house renovating. But I´m not making any rash promises!

Salmon Spanakopita… Sort Of

The gorgeous dish of Spanakopita hails from beautiful Greece. A delicious spinach pie, filled with feta cheese and egg and then wrapped in filo pastry – it´s a wonderful combination of flavours.

The weather here has turned overnight into summer with temperatures in the early 30s. Although we have used our gas barbecue on and off throughout the winter, we haven´t eaten outside. The weather now is perfect and we are going to make the most of it to eat in the garden, before the tremendous heat of summer drives us back inside to eat in the cool of the house.

I had bought a large salmon fillet (half of a whole salmon) which weighed about 1.5kg to cook for friends. The best laid plans and all that…well, the lunch didn´t happen and I had a massive piece of salmon to cook for two people.

The first lunch we simply cooked the whole thing on the barbecue, sprinkled with salt and served it with lemon juice and home made mayonnaise. We ate about a third of it so I divided the remaining piece into two and froze one piece. In this dish I used about 250g of cooked salmon so still have plenty left over to make a rice dish with prawns and salmon tomorrow.

I fancied making something different from fish cakes and remembered this lovely dish from Greece and set about recreating it, albeit with a few Up the Mountain twists. Or Making Do with what I had available. I realise that the traditional dish doesn´t contain meat or fish, but this is an interpretation rather than a faithful reproduction!

Ingredients (to serve 4 as a main course or 6 as a starter)

Please note, the ingredients are approximate, so feel free to add a little more or take a little away it it suits

  • One pack of puff pastry (275g) rolled out thinly (or use filo if you have it)
  • 180g of feta (I used fresh goat´s cheese made by a neighbour). Do check out Chgo John´s amazing method to make feta here.
  • About 250g cooked salmon, flaked
  • 225g Greek yogurt
  • 3 spring onions finely chopped (I used 1 small onion finely chopped)
  • 125g fresh spinach finely chopped and wilted (I put mine in a large metal colander and pour boiling water over it) with all the water squeezed out
  • 2 large eggs
  • ½ cup each of finely chopped dill (I used wild fennel tops which grow round here) and parsley
  • Seasoning

Heat the oven to 180ºC. Place the pastry on a flat baking tray which has been lined with greaseproof paper (or use a small one about half the size of your pastry which is a little deeper).

Mix all the ingredients together and season (you may not need much salt if you use feta).  Put the filling into the middle of the pastry and bring the pastry up and over to cover it, neatening the corners to seal the filling in. Use some water on the edges if necessary to help seal them.

Tastes great even if you didn´t seal the top up properly….

Brush with milk or beaten egg and bake for about 45 minutes until golden brown. Leave to cool slightly before eating. Perfect with a salad and a cool glass of wine.

Any ideas for that last piece of cooked salmon in my freezer? Go on, inspire me!

Back to the 70´s – Prawns in Lettuce Cups

Getting Groovy with the Prawns

Do you remember the 1970s? Well, I am sure some of you do, even if you were only babes in arms.  I was a young teenager at the end of the 1970s but it was a time in London when great changes were afoot in the world of food.  The height of sophistication at the time for a dinner party was probably something along the lines of prawn and avocado cocktail, steak with pepper sauce and Black Forest gâteau for dessert. And nothing wrong with any of that I say…but the 80s were soon going to herald the advent of Nouvelle Cuisine (or really tiny portions) and strange mixtures of ingredients such as Loin of some Obscure and Almost Extinct Creature Marinated in a Gooseberry and Guinness Jus. Well, you know what I mean.

Having watched a DVD of Abigail´s Party (I wish I knew how to insert video clips), I was clearly feeling nostalgic and decided to go a bit retro with my peeled prawns. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow and accept you´re getting old…

Ingredients for 4 people as a starter

  • Two lettuce hearts (use 8 of the bigger outside leaves and use the rest for salad)
  • 1 cup of peeled prawns, cooked and cut in half if large
  • 2 hard boiled eggs, chopped (not too finely)
  • 1 ripe avocado (chopped into small cubes)
  • 1 tablespoon of chopped parsley
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Half a cup of Marie Rose sauce (I made mine using 3 tablespoons of tomato ketchup, 3 tablespoons of mayonnaise, 1 heaped teaspoon of horseradish sauce, 1 teaspoon of Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce and 1 tablespoon of sweet chili sauce)
  • Pimentón to taste

Simply mix all the ingredients together and spoon into the lettuce leaves.  Sprinkle with hot or sweet Pimentón.

Now, put some groovy 1970s dinner party music on the built in Hi-fi, slip into a glamorous kaftan and enjoy the evening….