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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Coffee, Pear and Almond Cake

Some friends were coming over for “Merienda” which is afternoon tea in Spain, so it was a good opportunity to bake a cake. My Spanish pals do make me smile as when we get together for coffee and cakes, they always mention what a lovely English custom it is. I smile and agree, secretly thinking that I could probably count on the fingers of one hand the number of occasions I stopped for a proper afternoon tea when I lived in England. Oh well, I am certainly making up for it now.

This is a quick cake to pull together.  Sometimes it takes longer for the oven to warm up than it does for you to prepare the cake batter.

Ingredients (serves 10-12 slices)

  • One large pear, peeled, halved, quartered and then each quarter cut into three or four pieces
  • 1 ½ cups of self raising flour, ½ cup of ground almonds, a pinch of salt, a cup and a half of sugar all mixed together in a bowl
  • 3 large eggs, ½ a cup of vegetable oil, 1 teaspoon of almond essence, 2 shots of very strong cold espresso, half a cup of natural yogurt beaten together until well blended

Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix gently with a wooden spoon. Using a large cake tin (mine was silicone, so no need to line but I sprayed with a little oil) line the base with the pear slices to form a circular pattern.

Pour over the cake better and smooth out the mixture.

Bake at 180ºC for about 50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Leave to cool slightly before removing from the tin. Eat warm or cold. Keeps well for a few days – which is good as it is quite a large cake!

Beautiful Bakewell Cake

The 23rd April, the day before we left for our whirlwind trip to the UK, was St George´s Day. Yes, he who slayed the dragon and is the Patron Saint of England despite not having a very clear connection to my place of birth. Although this is not typically celebrated as special day in England, I decided to make something to remind me of it in honour of the day.

A traditional Bakewell Tart consists of a pastry base with a jam and sponge filling with almonds and may well have originated in the town of Bakewell in England. I´d be happy to be enlightened. The version of this delicious dessert is a cake and was inspired by a BBC Good Food recipe. As ever, I had to adapt!

Ingredients

  • 140g finely ground almonds
  • 140g softened butter
  • 140g caster sugar (the recipe calls for golden caster sugar)
  • 140g self raising flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • About 5 tablespoons of strawberry jam (this was my main change as the recipe calls for 250g fresh raspberries)
  • 2 tbsp flaked almonds
  • Icing sugar to decorate

Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4 and base-line and grease a deep 20cm loose-bottomed cake tin. Blitz the ground almonds, butter, sugar, flour, eggs and vanilla extract in a food processor until well combined.

Spread half the mix over the cake tin and smooth over the top. Scatter the raspberries over (I spooned over the jam) , then dollop the remaining cake mixture on top and roughly spread – you might find this easier to do with your fingers. Scatter with flaked almonds and bake for 50 mins until golden. Cool in the tin then remove and dust with icing sugar to serve.

A Cake To Take Visiting – Orange, Almond and Raisin Cake

Wrapped Up and Ready to Travel!

Customs vary immensely the world over, but some are the same regardless of where you are. When visiting friends for a meal, a little gift is customary. If it´s home made, so much the better, especially if it´s edible.

My mum passed a recipe on to me when I was last in London. She thought it would appeal because the finished cake is not too sweet (she knows I don´t have a hugely sweet tooth), uses oil instead of butter (so much easier here where butter is rarely used) and contains ingredients which are local to Andalucía – oranges, almonds and raisins. Perfect, all I needed was a chance to make it.

Easter weekend was a mix of quiet and hectic for us. Saturday found us heading across the “frontier” from Málaga province to Granada, to a remote area to join some friends in their Cortijo for lunch and a walk.  More of the walk another day as I got rather carried away taking photos.

The cake was made the night before and was a huge hit. It´s very moist and is a cross between a cake and a dessert and would also be perfect served with whipped cream, crème fraîche or ice cream.

Ingredients

  • 150g raisins soaked in 50ml of amaretto (warm the amaretto and leave the raisins in soak for at least an hour) If you don´t want to use alchohol, a delicate tea would also be perfect for soaking.
  • 2 oranges (as bitter as you can find)
  • 4 eggs
  • 180g caster sugar
  • 150g ground almonds (I left mine quite coarse, it´s up to you how fine you grind them, this cake the cake a nutty texture and a rougher look on the top)
  • 150g self raising flour (or plain flour with 2 tsp baking powder)
  • 50ml olive oil
  • 2 tsp icing sugar

Preheat oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas 4 and line a 24cm springform tin.

Place the whole oranges in a saucepan of water and ensure they are covered. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 15 minutes or until tender. Blitz 1½ oranges until finely chopped, reserve.  Squeeze the juice from the remaining half orange then set the juice aside.

Whisk the eggs until light and fluffy then whisk in the sugar.  Fold in the almonds and olive oil then sieve in the flour then fold in.  Gently stir in the pulped oranges and half the raisins and pour the mixture into the tin, spooning the remaining raisins over the top of the cake.

Bake for about 60 minutes until a skewer inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Remove the cake from the oven but keep in the tin. Place the juice of half the orange and the icing sugar in a pan and dissolve the sugar.  Pierce the cake all over with a skewer and pour the orange syrup over.  Leave in the tin to cool then remove and enjoy.

PS. I think this would also be great made with polenta!

Orange, Almond and Raisin Cookies

I´m not a very sweet toothed person, but as soon as I decide to try and eat sensibly for a while to shift a couple of kilos, I find myself craving things I wouldn´t normally eat. Like cookies.

I came across a lovely recipe over at IamSimplyTia which I thought we be a perfect, not so naughty treat.  Of course, as soon as I set about making the cookies, I needed to adapt as I was short of some of the ingredients.

Here´s my adapted version for a guilt free but flavour packed snack.

Ingredients (makes 18 large cookies)

  • 2 mashed ripe bananas
  • ¼ cup of natural yogurt
  • ½ teaspoon of almond essence
  • ¾ cup of white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of maple syrup
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • ½ teaspoon of ground cinnamon

Put all of the above ingredients into a large bowl and beat until well blended.

Now add

  • ¾ cup of self raising flour
  • 1 ½ cups of oats
  • ½ cup of raisins
  • ¼ cup of almond slices
  • the grated rind of half a large orange

Mix well with a wooden spoon and place the mixture in the fridge for 30 minutes. Meanwhile heat the oven to 180ºC and line 2 baking trays with ovenproof or silicon paper.

Place heaped tablespoons of the mixture on the baking trays and bake for about 25 minutes until lightly browned on top.  Leave to cool for fruity, nutty, crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside cookies.  Thanks for the inspiration Tia!

Becuase of the changes I made these are best eaten within 48 hours – but I don´t think that will be a problem, will it?!

One Year On…Pollo en Pepitoria – Chicken in a Saffron and Almond Sauce

Pepitoria – what a great word!  However, I couldn´t find a decent translation for it.  The dictionary comes up with “hodge podge” or “fricassée”.  I don´t think either of those translations suit the sophistication of this beautiful looking, wonderful tasting but oh so easy to prepare dish.

It´s often cooked for celebratory meals – probably because of the luxury of the ingredients (saffron and almonds) and the fact that it can be prepared for a large number of people in advance. It seems that it´s a year since I published my first post here on WordPress.  Wow, what a journey it´s been!  From no readers 😦 to a lovely group of new blogging pals who comment, support, encourage and inspire.  I thank you all, it´s great to have you along for the ride.

So, back to the food.  Don´t be put off by the word “luxury”, it´s actually luxurious in terms of quality and not cost.  Most recipes suggest using free range chicken or even an old hen or cockerel for long slow cooking and an amazing taste.  I used our old black cockerel who was no longer doing it for my lady hens…he had a great life, fathered many little chicks and was treated splendidly after his demise in this gorgeous dish.  Ok, on with the cooking.

You´ll need (for approx 6 people depending on the size of your chicken)

  • 1 large chicken cut into portions and floured
  • Olive oil
  • About 20 blanched almonds
  • 1 thick slice of day old bread
  • 6 cloves of garlic peeled and sliced in half lengthways
  • About 1 heaped tablespoon of chopped parsley
  • ½ teaspoon of saffron stamens (or you can use ground turmeric which will add a little flavour of a different kind, but it´s a good substitute)
  • ¼ teaspoon of ground cloves
  • Fresh black pepper for grinding and salt (I used Maldon)
  • About ½ litre of chicken stock
  • 2 large glasses of dry white whine
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 hard boiled eggs

Start by putting a few good slugs of olive oil in the bottom of a heavy based pan that has a lid.  Brown the almonds and garlic and remove. Now fry the bread until browned and remove.  Put the bread, almonds, garlic, parsley and saffron in a jug with about half a cup of stock and blend until you have a thick smooth mixture.

Fry your chicken pieces in the same oil (add more if necessary) until browned on both sides then pour over the almond and saffron mixture,  one glass of white wine, enough stock to cover the meat,  the bay leaf and season with salt and pepper.  Pour yourself the other glass of wine and drink while waiting for the pot to come up to a gentle boil.  Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook gently for at least an hour and a half.  I cooked mine for three hours as it was an old cockerel (bless him) and check every so often that the meat is covered with liquid.  If not, add a little water or chicken stock.

When the meat is tender, remove from the sauce and turn up the heat to reduce slightly.  Check for seasoning and add the mashed yolks of the 2 hard boiled eggs to further thicken the sauce.  Once it has reached the consistency of a thick pouring sauce, put the chicken back into the pot (or pour the sauce over your chicken if you are going to use a serving platter) and sprinkle with the chopped whites of the hard boiled egg and finely chopped parsley.  Serve with fresh lemon to squeeze over, rice, fried or mashed potatoes and ¡Buen Provecho!

Going Nuts Over My Awards…

Well, what a week it´s been!  Getting back from our holiday and trying to re-establish a routine with gardening, chickens, dogs, cooking, work…but all of it fun.

And now, four nominations at once.  How lucky and honoured am I?  First of all I have been nominated by TikkTok and RaeDi at Hummingbird Hollow for the Versatile Blogger Award.  I was lucky enough to have been nominated for this a while back (but I am not a believer that you can have too much of a good thing), so check out my 7 bits of info in this post. Better not reveal any more or I may lose some of my mysterious allure.  What…I don´t have any?  Oh well…

Then, much to my surprise, I was nominated for the Liebster Blog Award by the lovely Cecilia over at The Kitchens Garden and Mandy at The Complete Cookbook.  You don´t have to make any lists or link to any blogs with this one, just nominate 5 blogs you admire who have less than 200 subscribers, and who you feel should have more!

So, I´d like to thank all the lovely bloggers who nominated me (oh you shouldn´t have…) and nominate the following for the Liebster Blog Award (and apologies if you already have more than 200 subscribers – WordPress was showing this info and now I can´t seem to see it!)

London Eats

Mad Dog TV Dinners

Blue Jelly Beans

Olives and Artichokes

I heart Mondegreens

Please feel free to accept, ignore, pass on, enjoy…but for those of you reading this, do check them out, I think you´ll like what you see!

Now…a quick look at our almonds.  We had so much rain here in the spring that one of our two almond trees lost all its blossom and the second one only managed to hang on to a few flowers.  Such a shame.

When we got back it was time to pick our “bumper “ crop.  As you can see, there really wasn´t very much picking to be done. We didn´t need to bring extra workers in!

Quick, bring the wheelbarrow...I can´t take the weight!

The almonds are covered in a green velvety casing.

Mother Nature´s Couture Green Velvet Coats

We peeled this off of most of them as we stood by the chicken shed.

Striptease in the olive grove

We left them in the sun for a few hours which helped us get those stubborn little “coats” off.

Naked sunbathing

And that was it – one evening soon we´ll open a nice bottle of wine, get our stinky cheese out and have an almond cracking session.  Fingers crossed for a better harvest next year.

Pesto – with an Andalucían twist

All lined up for a Family Portrait

Basil grows like crazy here.  Well, it does if the slugs don´t get the first batch that you put into the ground in Spring.  After replanting, I finally got my usual lovely crop of basil which I was using for salads, soups, seasoning and many other things beginning with the letter “s”.

There comes a point when you have to cut it back, as it starts to want to flower and the stalks begin to get a little tough and woody.  This is one bit of greenery my chickens are not going to enjoy as a treat…it´s going to become my annual batch of pesto.  I always make plenty (and I´ll probably make at least one more batch) as something mysterious always seems to happen to my little jars of pesto.

It works like this….visitors come from the UK.  They discover my despensa (that´s a walk in larder) and start to disappear for longer and longer.  When they leave to go home, their suitcases are strangely heavy.  I go into the despensa and find greatly reduced stocks of marmalade, jams and pesto!  It´s a funny thing…. I still haven´t worked out what is happening in there.

Anyway, as to exact measurements, it´s hard to say as much will depend on the strength of your garlic, the pungency of your cheese, the fruitiness of your olive oil.  The little twist to my pesto is nothing that exotic or mysterious…but it´s hard (and expensive) to buy pine nuts here, and as we have a couple of almond trees in our little olive grove, I just substitute almonds for pine nuts.

My food processor seems to have worn down its blade slightly, so this year´s pesto was a little chunkier than usual as I couldn´t grind the almonds down to a fine powder.  That said, it tastes amazing, and a day after taking the photos the sauce is a beautiful vivid green colour.

You´ll need basil leaves, salt, a hard cheese such as parmesan (I also used some hard sheep´s milk cheese as the parmesan I had was nothing too special) which you need to grate, olive oil, and garlic.

For about 8 cups of basil I used 3 large cloves of garlic, about 3 cups of grated cheese, 2 cups of ground almonds, 3 teaspoons of sea salt and 1 litre of olive oil.  This gave me just over one and a half litres of pesto.

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You can make it in a food processor, although I had to switch to doing smaller batches with my hand blender because of my ineffective blade.  Taste and add….more salt, go for it….now more cheese….too thick, add more oil.  You get the picture.

Put into sterilised jars when you are done, it will keep for a year.  But only if you put a lock on the larder door.