Where did January go?!

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.

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Feeling Fishy…

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.

Vanilla Scented Apple and Sultana Cake

 

I’m a lazy cake baker. Probably because I’d generally prefer to eat something savoury or spicy. Even for dessert! But there are times when the cake baking urge takes over and I give in. Usually with very little grace and I bake something wonderfully simple like Banana Bread. Recently I came across a small portion of stewed apple in one of my periodic freezer tidy ups (Christmas is looming and I need to make space!). It was 150ml and I  suspect I had put it aside to eat with porridge over a couple of mornings.

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I guessed that the 4 small mashed ripe bananas in the banana bread recipe were probably about the same volume as the stewed apples, and ignoring all the Mary Berry warnings about fruit adding liquid to cakes and causing all sorts of potential hazards, I ploughed ahead regardless. I made a few small changes to the original recipe, cooked it at a slightly higher temperature, and voila,  a lovely light and fragrant cake. Sometimes you just have to push the rules to their limits.

The cake has the same moist and slightly dense texture of banana bread, very filling!

Ingredients (to fit a 9″ × 5″ lined loaf tin)

  • 100g of sultanas soaked in your favourite tea (I used a lovely rooibus with vanilla gifted to me by the even lovelier Mandy over at The Complete Book), then drained and cooled
  • 175g self raising flour mixed with ½ teaspoon salt
  • 60ml olive oil (or use vegetable oil)
  • 150g sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 150g stewed apples
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees (fan) or 200 conventional oven

Mix the oil with the sugar then add the eggs one by one. Next stir in the apple followed by the sultanas and vanilla extract.

Mix in the flour and salt (you don’t need to be too gentle, it’s a very resilient cake mix) and pour into a lined loaf tin.

Bake for about an hour, covering with foil towards the end if it’s browning too quickly. It should be gently browned on top and a skewer  or sharp knife inserted into the middle should come out clean.  Cool for about 10 minutes in the tin then remove to a cooling rack and resist for as long as you can then enjoy with a cup of your favourite tea or coffee!

Melting Spiced Pork with Aubergine

Not quite a curry, but with just a few fragrant spices and a gentle cook in the oven, you’ll be rewarded with a pot of melting meat and aubergine which will make you oh so happy! And for non meat eaters, read on to the end for a vegetarian alternative.

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Ingredients, to serve four with rice

  • 3 tbsp oil
  • 750g pork cut into bite sized chunks (I used skinless pork belly strips)
  • 2 aubergines cut into bite sized chunks
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 5 star anise
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 onions, peeled and very finely diced
  • 1 tbsp grated ginger
  • 1 red chili, finely chopped
  • 1 bunch fresh coriander (separate stems and leaves and finely chop both)
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • Juice of a lime

Heat oven to 200C/180C Fan Oven/Gas 6. Heat the oil in an ovenproof pan that has a lid and fry the meat until browned (you may need to do this in batches), remove from the pan.

Add the aubergine and brown (you may need a little extra oil), remove from the pan and put with the pork.

Now add the sugar to the pan and allow to caramelise slightly, then return  the meat and aubergine to the pan with the cinnamon and star anise.

Put the onions, ginger, most of the chili (reserving a little for garnishing) and the chopped coriander stalks into the pan and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the fish sauce and enough water to cover the mixture completely.

Cover and place in the oven for an hour. Remove, stir in most of the coriander and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Garnish with any remaining coriander and chili and serve with boiled rice and vegetables.

For a vegetarian version, omit the pork, and replace with a mixture of robust mushrooms such as brown chestnut and shitake. Substitute the fish sauce with a light soy sauce.

 
Inspired by a BBC Good Food recipe

Carne en salsa – Pork with peppers and potatoes

In Andalucía many restaurants will offer, as part of their menu, a dish called “carne en salsa”. Literally translated this is “meat in sauce”. In Andalucía this will be, pretty much without exception, pork. The dish will be served as a tapa in tiny terracotta dishes with a small piece of crusty bread, or you can order a media ración  (a half portion) or a ración  (a full portion). Full and half portions would most likely be served with chips (fries) or perhaps potatoes or rice and main dishes are usually shared with several different dishes ordered and everyone digging in.

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This is a loose interpretation of the dish, it wouldn’t usually have potatoes or chorizo included when it’s cooked, so leave them out if you want to be more authentic. If you have an earthenware dish to cook it in, go for it. The gentle cooking in these pots does something good special to the flavour. I used my slow cooker (then warmed it through in my Cazuela to serve), but this can be cooked on the stovetop or in the oven if you prefer.

Ingredients (to serve 4-6 as a main course)

  • 1kg pork shoulder diced into bite sized cubes
  • 2 fresh chorizo sausages, sliced
  • About 500g potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1 onion, peeled and finely diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
  • 2 peppers (any colour) diced
  • 400g tinned tomatoes
  • A pinch of saffron threads or half a teaspoon of turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon of sweet pimentón
  • ½ teaspoon of hot pimentón  (optional)
  • About 10 sprigs of thyme and a bay leaf
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 large tablespoons of tomato purée
  • A glass of red or white wine (about 125ml)
  • A good slug of dry sherry (optional)
  • 125ml approx of chicken stock (extra if you cook in a conventional oven or stovetop)
  • 2 heaped teaspoons of cornflour  (optional)
  • Flat leaf parsley, finely chopped, to garnish

Put the pork, chorizo, potato, onion, garlic, pepper, tomatoes, saffron (or turmeric), pimentón,  thyme and bay leaf into your cooking pot or slow cooker. Season with the salt and pepper and mix.

Mix the tomato purée with the wine, stock and sherry and pour over the pork and vegetables. In the slow cooker cook on  high for about 4 hours until the meat is very tender. On the stovetop bring to a gentle simmer and cook, half covered for about 2 hours or until the meat is tender for about 2 hours. Check frequently, you may need to add a little extra stock.  In the oven, cook at a medium low heat for about 3 hours, covered, until the meat is tender. Check every 45 minutes and add extra liquid if needed.

When you’re almost ready to serve, if the liquid is too runny for your liking, add two heaped teaspoons of cornflour to a little cold water and stir in. Return the dish to the heat for about 20 minutes (slow cooker or oven) and 5 minutes (stove top) until thickened. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary, garnish and serve with plenty of lovely crusty bread.

When life gives you pomegranates…

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!

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).

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…

 

 

Three months…

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

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.