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).

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Chicken Liver Paté (for poorly folk with half a kitchen)

You can’t keep a good woman down, and you can’t stop Chica from interfering in the kitchen. Thank you for all the good wishes for my recuperation from the little gall bladder operation.  All is going well apart from feeling very tired and looking quite pale and interesting. Loved ones felt that I might be a little anaemic and my cravings for dried apricots and green leafy vegetables probably confirm that.

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The kitchen  is progressing slowly but well and the other evening I really wanted to make something from  scratch rather than just heat up a meal I had waiting in the freezer. The fact that I craved liver and still didn’t have a hob was not going to deter me and I  am showing you the grim reality of my current cooking arrangements in the spirit of honesty and to encourage anyone who doesn’t have a super swishy cooker. If you want to do it…you can!

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Slightly lower fat chicken liver paté for the stubborn and determined cook

  • 400g chicken livers trimmed of any sinews and soaked for about 30 minutes in milk to remove any bitterness
  • 100g low fat creme frâiche
  • 2 cloves of garlic peeled and grated or crushed
  • 1 shallot peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon each of Port and Brandy
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 40g approx unsalted butter, gently heated and white foam spooned off (clarified butter)
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • A sprig of something pretty from your herb garden to decorate

In a large frying pan, heat a tablespoon of the oil. Drain and dry the chicken livers well with kitchen paper and cook on a medium heat for a couple of minutes each side until browned but still pink in the middle. If you can’t bear bloody meat, go ahead and cook them through thoroughly. It’s your paté,  your choice!

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Remove from the pan to a plate and wipe the pan clean. Add the rest of the oil and gently fry the shallot and garlic until transparent and soft. Add the cooked chicken livers to the pan with the port and brandy and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated. Season lightly with the salt and pepper and allow to cool slightly for a few minutes.

Put the mixture into a blender (I used a stick blender so used the tall container that comes with it) together with the creme frâiche. Blend until smooth, taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Spoon into a serving dish and pour over the clarified butter, decorating if you like.  If you prefer to use individual serving dishes you may need more butter. I think thyme is more usual as a decoration, but I used what I had!

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Chill for a few hours or overnight and enjoy. I understand this will keep for at least a week with the butter seal, once you start it though, eat within 2-3 days. Which is not a problem in our house as every time I open the fridge I do a little taste test…

 

 

Good Friday Parpuchas – Salt Cod Fritters

Today, even though we are in England, we kept up a tradition from Big Man’s family in Andalucia and made Parpuchas. Light, fluffy fritters of salt cod, parsley and garlic. Traditionally served (as we did) with a drizzle or a dunk of Miel de Caña (Molasses). It sounds odd but I promise you, the combination of sweet and salty really does work. If you don’t have access to salt cod (which you’ll have to desalt) this works well with any other firm raw fish.

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I will post the recipe below, but if you’d like to read the original post from a couple of years back and to see some of the traditions of Holy Week in Spain, do check out the original.

Ingredients

  • 200g (desalted) salt cod, shredded into small flakes
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 cup of flour (approx)
  • 2 large tablespoons of finely chopped parsley
  • 1 finely chopped or crushed clove of garlic
  • Salt to taste if you are not using salt cod
  • Oil for deep frying

Add the milk, bicarbonate, parsley, garlic and fish to the beaten eggs and then gradually add the flour until you have a thick batter.  It needs to be about the texture of thick lumpy custard (not that any of you, I am sure, have ever made lumpy custard!).

Heat the oil until a cube of stale bread turns brown quickly when dropped in and then drop spoonfuls of batter into the oil. I used a tablespoon and it gave me rather large parpuchas – I´d recommend using about half a tablespoon full as they will puff up slightly. When they are brown on the bottom (and they will float to the top), flip them over and cook on the other side. They will not be in the oil for long.

Remove with a slotted spoon, drain and sit them on kitchen paper for a few moments and serve hot, drizzled with Miel de Caña (to be typical) but also good with  lemon, alioli or tartare sauce. If you make too many, they are still very tasty cold as they retain their texture.

All that remains for me to say before we move into the rest of the Easter weekend is a very Happy and Peaceful Easter, or Happy Passover if that is what you celebrate, or a Happy Few Days with your loved ones. Watch out for those chocolate bunnies…..

Ham Hock Persillade

Some neighbours of ours in England recently moved from Bexhill on Sea to the wilds of Bonny Scotland. As with most house moves, it was a chance for them to de-clutter. Fortunately for me Mr Neighbour managed a local bookstore and as a result of this had a house packed full of a wide variety of books. I assume these had been come by through honest means and he didn’t shove a book down his trousers each night as he went home. It would have been churlish to ask as I was the lucky recipient of an eclectic collection of books.

One of them was Gordon Ramsay’s Sunday Lunch. I have to confess that in the past I have had no f*****g time for him, he swears too much…Jokes aside (yes, that was a little joke) I just hadn’t ever bought any of his books or watched any of his programmes so I was a little reluctant to even read the book, let alone use it. I’m so glad I did delve into its pages…a lot of very uncomplicated recipes and menus, dishes that I actually wanted to cook. Sorry Mr Ramsay, you bl**dy surprised me!

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A local butcher regularly sells cooked ham hocks. It’s the knee basically, cooked and then sold with the gelatine (formed by the cooking liquid) for a bargain price of less than £3 (that’s about the same in Euro and a few US dollars more). I often buy them as the ham picked off the bones is great in sandwiches or soup and the dogs love the bones which keep them entertained in the garden for hours. Result all round.

I came across a recipe in the book, very grandly titled Ham Hock Persillade which reminded me of the delicious brawn my mum makes. The recipe called for cooking the ham and reducing the stock with gelatine to solidify it. No need for that, my hock was already cooked and covered in the delicious stuff. I halved his recipe which he says serves 6-8. Even my halved version (using pickled garlic instead of gherkins as I didn’t have any) would easily have fed 8 as a starter, probably with a little left over. I served it as a starter (for 5 people) thickly sliced on top of a salad of spinach and watercress and also as canapés (there were 6 of us for drinks and nibbles), cut into little cubes and served with some very retro cocktail sticks!

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Ingredients

  • 1 large cooked ham hock and its gelatine
  • 2 tbsp large capers, cut into slices
  • 2 tbsp pickled garlic, thinly sliced
  • Handful of flat leaf parsley finely chopped

You will need a loaf tin or a deep plastic container.

Remove the gelatine and skin from the hock and place into a saucepan with about half a cup of water.

Pull the meat off the bones (the bones will now also go into the saucepan) and shred it. Set the meat aside.

Boil the skin, bones etc for about 7 or 8 minutes then drain the liquid and leave it to cool slightly.

Mix the shredded meat with the capers, garlic (or use gherkins), parsley and some freshly ground pepper. You probably won’t need salt as ham hocks tend to be quite salty. Put this mixture into a loaf tin or plastic tub lined with cling film then pour the liquid over until the mix is completely covered. Tap the tin or terrine gently to get rid of any air bubbles, cover with cling film and place a weight on top. Chill overnight or until it has set.

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When you are ready to serve, peel off the cling film on the top and invert the container onto a serving plate. It should slide out easily, then you can peel the remaining film off. Serve cut into thick slices (Mr Ramsay serves his with piccalilli which I imagine must be very good). A really impressive but not too tricky to make dish. Would be great for a picnic too as it’s very portable when still in its mould.

Thanks Mr Ramsay, a flippin’ marvellous recipe!

Chorizo en vino con cebolla – Spicy Sausage with wine and onion

Chorizo in Spain is not like the chorizo you used to be able to buy in England – it was the hard, dry variety, rather like a little salami. In Spain chorizo is sold fresh – it looks like a bright red sausage and if you buy it at the butchers it’s sold in strings. You will be asked if you want it “fresco o seco” “fresh or dry”. The fresh variety is like a recently made sausage and is for cooking on the “plancha” or in a pan. The drier will have been made a few days or weeks previously and can be sliced and eaten as it is, in the same way as a salami.

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It’s typical to buy a good supply and then hang some up for eating later and cook the fresh chorizo. I’ve noticed that in England, in some butchers at least, they are coming up with some wonderful and authentic tasting varieties of fresh chorizo, but if you can’t get hold of any, use your favourite sausage and add a little spicy pimentón to give it a warm Spanish taste.

This is a very typical dish served as tapas, with or without the addition of the onions. As we were still working our way through the onion glut, I did it with onions!

Ingredients (to serve as many as you like)

  • For every chorizo you cook, you’ll need about half a medium onion finely chopped and a splash of medium dry Spanish sherry

Slice each chorizo into 4-6 pieces and fry in a little olive oil until the outside is slightly charred. If you are lucky enough to have a terracotta cooking pot, use this as it really does add something special to the flavour.

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Remove the chorizo and put to one side. Add the onions to the olive oil (and the chorizo will also have released some oil) and if you are using it, add a little pimentón. Fry the onions until they start to soften, but not caramelize and then add the wine. Cook until the liquid has almost completely disappeared and the onions are soft and coloured from the juices.  Add the chorizo back into the dish and cook for a couple of minutes more until warmed through.  Normally you won’t need any seasoning as the chorizo is highly spiced and salted, but check to taste and adjust if necessary.  Serve with a glass of ice cold fino and plenty of delicious bread.

Griddled Scallops with Lemon and Rocket and a Fish Sauce Dressing

Back in England and Scallops are very much back on the menu for us. This is a simple but luxurious starter or a light lunch or supper. I also served the scallops with some excellent smoked salmon I happened to have but it would have been just as good without.

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

  • 12 scallops
  • Some finely chopped rocket mixed with the finely chopped zest of a lemon (unwaxed)
  • Some finely chopped coriander to sprinkle over

For the dressing

  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of sesame oil, 1 teaspoon of fish sauce, a tablespoon of rice wine vinegar, half a crushed clove of garlic, the juice of half a lemon, a little honey (to taste), salt and pepper.

Mix or shake up all the ingredients for the dressing, tasting and adjusting as you go

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Heat the griddle pan until it is smoking hot and quickly sear the scallops on each side (about a minute is all they’ll need) then plate them up. Pour the dressing over the hot scallops, and sprinkle over the rocket and lemon mix.

Fast food doesn’t get much better than this!

For more scallop inspired recipes, take a look at this or this.

Know Your Onions – Onions Braised in Wine and Balsamic Vinegar

What a funny expression that is. I struggled to find a decent explanation for it, although we use the expression to mean “knowing a lot about a subject”. If anyone can enlighten me, I’d love to know more!

Over on the beautiful prairies of the Midwest of America, our very dear friend Celia goes along each year to a big swapping fiesta. She usually comes home with some exotic and adorable creature like a white peacock or beautiful Boo the dog. Here, swapping is rife but generally restricted to gluts of fruit and vegetables and also poultry and eggs. As we’re not around so much right now, we can’t offer much but our dear friends and neighbours are busy keeping us supplied with delicious goodies.

Yesterday Big Man said he was popping out to see a man about some onions, as you do, and this is what he came home with.

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A lot of onions. And we’re due to be heading back to England in about a week, so there’s no way we can pack them into the car…we’d be asphyxiated by onion fumes. Time to get creative with onion recipes. Well, there’s Up the Mountain Onion Soup, of course. And maybe a caramelised onion tart. How about something different? Memories of my godmother, who came from the north of Italy, near Venice, and her method of cooking tiny onions in balsamic vinegar inspired me. I’m not sure if it’s exactly her recipe, but the taste was very similar and definitely worth buying onions to make specially.

Ingredients

  • Onions
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Olive oil
  • White or red wine
  • Salt and pepper
  • A few stems of a hardy herb like oregano (or you could use thyme or rosemary)

Chop the tops and bottoms off the onions so that they will sit flat in a deep frying pan or saucepan. Season with salt and pepper, drizzle over the balsamic vinegar (I used about 2 tablespoons for approximately a dozen onions), the same quantity of olive oil and pour over a glass of wine. I used Vino del Terreno (this translates as Wine of the Earth or Terrain) which is a wine many of our neighbours produce, a little rough and slightly sweet but oh so good with salty food. Scatter over the herbs and cover tightly with a lid or foil.

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Bring the pot to boiling point and then reduce to the lowest heat possible and cook gently, turning the onions once or twice, for about an hour. Just before serving, remove the lid and turn up the heat to reduce the delicious cooking liquid slightly. We ate these onions hot as a side dish but they would be delicious served at room temperature as a tapas or starter.

And just in case you don’t like wine but do like dogs (clearly not braised in wine and balsamic vinegar) here is a completely gratuitous shot of my pups Luna and Alfi hoping I don’t notice they are hogging the sofa.

No Dogs On The Sofa Please
No Dogs On The Sofa Please

 

Spring Salads

I always feel a bit of a fraud posting salad recipes as most of us conjure up salads from what we have in the fridge most of the time. Well, it makes sense.  But sometimes there are some really tasty combinations of ingredients just work so well together, it’s worth searching them out to make them specially.

The first one was inspired by a conversation with my parents at Christmas. We were eating some particularly good smoked salmon and they were reminiscing about their work in London in the 1970s and 1980s when they used to run some very funky nightclubs. I was the envy of the class having a young mum who wore silver platform boots and Green Mary Quant nail varnish to go to work but in typical fashion always wanted to be round visiting best pal Ria’s mum who baked cakes. There’s no pleasing young folk, as I am sure many of you will agree!

Their memory was of Ella Fitzgerald (oh yes, I’m shamelessly name dropping here) asking for English mustard to go with her smoked salmon, so of course we got out the mustard and I have to say, Ella certainly knew what she was asking for!

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Asparagus and Smoked Salmon Salad with a Mustard Mayonnaise

(Quantities are up to you, we ate this as a starter between 2)

  • Rocket leaves, asparagus spears (blanch the chopped stems first for a few minutes then add the tips for the last minute or so) slices of smoked salmon arranged to your liking on one of your favourite plates.
  • Drizzle a little olive oil over and a squeeze of lemon juice, a sprinkle of salt and a few grinds of black pepper.
  • Serve with a dipping mayonnaise (homemade or otherwise) mixed in a ratio of about 5:1 with English mustard. Put on your favourite Disco collection cd and get on down.

If you enjoy asparagus, try this recipe out and see what you think.

Back in Spain here it’s orange season and we can’t get enough of them. They’re being sold at outrageously cheap prices for massive bags of them so we’re juicing them, eating them au naturel and in fruit salads and savoury salads. Here’s a favourite which we serve with grilled pork – the flavour of the sweet and sour oranges, the sharp onion and the creamy avocado contrast really well with the richness of the meat.

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Orange and Avocado Salad

  • Per person a peeled and chopped orange, half a peeled and chopped avocado, some thinly sliced sweet onion and a sprinkle of finely chopped parsley,
  • Sprinkle some coarse sea salt over and a drizzle of olive oil. If the oranges are particularly sweet squeeze over a little lemon juice and finish with a splash of balsamic vinegar. I used a Balsamic vinegar reduction which is not only pretty to look at as you can get all cheffy with it, it also has a very delicious intense flavour.

Go on, Spring into Spring and start to throw off those warming winter hotpots and give your favourite salads a chance again!

Tarallucci – Savoury Fennel Biscuits and a little break for Chica and Big Man

I seem to be cooking to an Italian theme right now – no particular reason. Well, I did buy a new (second hand) cookery book, Two Greedy Italians by Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo. If you ever get a change to watch the series they made to go with the book, do give it a go – it features some good food from all around Italy and the pair of them behave like a funny old couple who have been married for years! The following recipe comes from the book.

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Here’s a bread type recipe which I made recently as they reminded me of nibbles my parents often serve at their home with olives and salted almonds with pre lunch or dinner drinks. The first batch I made came out a little chewy, more like crispy bagels. I cooked the second batch for longer and they were as I remembered – crispy, hard and deliciously aniseedy in flavour.

Ingredients (makes 40-50 but can easily be halved)

  • 200g semolina four
  • 200g plain flour plus extra for dusting (use all plain flour if you don’t have semolina flour)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp fennel seeds
  • 1 x 7g sachet of fast blend yeast (or 1 sachet of dried yeast dissolved in 150ml lukewarm water)
  • 150ml water (no need to use if you have used it to dissolve your yeast)
  • 100ml of extra virgin olive oil

Add the fennel seeds, salt and pepper to the flours and mix then add the liquids. Knead well for about 5 mins and then leave to rise for about 2 hours or until doubled in size.

Knead again for another 5 mins and then pat the dough into a flat, rectangular shape. Cut strips about 2cms wide off and cut each strip into 10cm lengths. Wrap each strip around a finger, flattening it slightly and pressing the ends firmly together.

Preheat the oven to 180 degress C or gas Mark 4 and bring a large pot of slightly salted water to the boil.

Drop the dough circles into the water in batches, let then rise to the surface and let them cook for about 3 minutes.

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Life them out with a slotted spoon and leave them to drain (I did this on greaseproof paper as I found they stuck to kitchen paper).

Place the biscuits on a baking sheet and bake for about 35 minutes until lightly browned and crispy (the original recipe calls for initial cooking for 15 mins at the higher temperature then 10 minutes at a medium temperature). Leave to cool and enjoy with a glass of something lovely.

Tomorrow we’re packing our little cases and heading over to the beautiful island of Jersey. I say beautiful because I hear it is – it will be out first visit. And we’re not worried that rain and gloomy weather are forecast as we’re going to celebrate our anniversary which also (most fortunately) coincides with a food and drink festival. Well, we might do a little sightseeing but hopefully we’ll be back a few kilos heavier and full of exciting ideas for new dishes. See you next week!

Old Favourites and Favourite Gadgets

When we were in England, people asked us what we missed about Spain. Mostly it was the light, which sounds odd, I think people expected us to say “the sun”.  We missed family and friends of course, we missed the gatherings and fiestas. But we knew we’d be back and we were having fun too.

I missed being able to cook “properly”, I didn’t have all my gadgets with me, so being back in my fully equipped kitchen with my hand blender, my food processor and my terracotta bowls has allowed me to make some old favourites.

Salmorejo (do click on the link for the recipe and a “how to) is a summer favourite, and now that I can buy tomatoes without taking out a mortgage to do so, this will be made every few days.

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Of course, I was able to make pil pil while in England, but it does taste so much better when cooked in the traditional terracotta bowl. And just to prove that you can “pil pil” so many different things, this week I did clams.

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And sewing…oh sewing. How I missed my sewing machine. We’ve only been back a week but that wasn’t going to stop me getting my hands on some fabric gifted to me, and a beautiful pattern from the very talented Steph over at 3 Hours Past and making up her wonderful Tiramisu dress pattern. If you fancy making the wonderful dessert instead of the dress, do head over to Karen’s fabulous post which tells you how!

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Steph designs and makes patterns for real women – curvy ones, slim ones, straight up and down ones.

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The designs and patterns are beautiful with excellent instructions and I’m thrilled with my new summer dress.

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My sourdough starter, courtesy of Sawsan’s “how to”, is bubbling away nicely, so at the weekend the mixer with the dough hook will be put to work and I think I’ll really feel like I’ve settled back in again properly.