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!

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Arroz Caldoso con Cangrejo – or Holidays, Romance and Crabs

Any of you who have followed my blog since way back when may recall a trip we made a few years back to the north of Spain. To Galicia and Asturias more precisely. An insanely beautiful part of the country, lush and green. Lush and green because, like in Scotland or the English Lake District, it rains a lot. And rain (and rain) it did. Which left us plenty of time for eating and drinking. Always look on the bright side, I say.

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I don’t know why it surprised us that it rained, even though it was only the tail end of summer, as holidays and special occasions are generally a complete disaster for Big Man and me.

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Our anniversary falls on 11th November so aside from the fact a lot of folk are quite rightly marking a very solemn memorial to all those who lost their lives in conflict, it’s a dreadful time of year for good weather in the Northern Hemisphere. Christmas and Birthdays generally involve some sort of disaster or a member of the extended family falling ill so we’ve now accepted that we’ll not get ourselves too worked up over celebrations and holidays and just enjoy the everyday joys.

There is a point to all this reminiscing. Today I bought two cooked and dressed crabs at the local fishmonger intending to boil some potatoes, make a salad and call it lunch. Big Man began to talk about an amazing meal we’d had on our trip to the north of Spain. The rain poured down, the wind howled and the first hotel we stayed in was nice but miles out of town. After a long, long drive we decided to do something we rarely do and EAT IN THE HOTEL RESTAURANT. What a good decision that was. The food was incredible and we made the most of it, ordering their speciality of Arroz Caldoso con Bogavante (which translates as brothy rice with lobster) for our last night there. Why didn’t I make “brothy” rice with crab he asked? Why not indeed, so I did, and absolutely wonderful it was too.

If you have an earthenware cazuela to make and serve this in, use it (Celia, I’m talking about you!). It really makes a difference to the flavour and is more authentic.

Ingredients (to serve 4)

  • The meat from 2 cooked crabs (white and brown) which will weigh about 260g – although you can use raw too but will need to cook them first
  • About 1.2l of fish stock made from the crab shells and any other bits of fish you can beg from your fishmonger and with a few strands of saffron added
  • 400g paella rice
  • 1 small onion finely chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 200g chopped, peeled tomatoes (if using tinned, and why wouldn’t you, make sure to drain them first)
  • A splash of brandy
  • Salt & Pepper
  • A lemon, quartered
  • Some finely chopped parsley to serve
  • Olive oil

Gently fry the onion in a little olive oil until it is softened but not browned then add the garlic and cook for a minute. Add the tomatoes and cook gently for about 10 minutes and add the splash of brandy. Next add the rice and stock.

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(A little reminder, if you’re making paella you’ll need 100g of rice per person approximately and for every 100g of rice you need about 210ml of liquid. For brothy rice you need the same amount of rice but 3 times the amount of liquid, so approx 300ml to every 100g of rice.)

Cook gently, half covered until the rice is almost done, add more stock if it’s drying out too much, then add the cooked crab meat, stir and taste and add seasoning if necessary at this point. Turn the heat off, cover the pan and let the rice rest for at least 5 minutes and to let the rice finish cooking. Serve with a little parsley sprinkled over and wedges of lemon to squeeze over the food.

This is a dish made with a few ingredients but which lets them shine, it tastes luxurious and decadent. Which made me think it would be good for a Valentines meal – very romantic. Unless you happen to be us and also have Valentine’s Disasters…but more of that in a few days.

If you want to see more of the North of Spain, do check out the links at the start of the post, which I hope you’ll enjoy.

Fabada – Asturian Sausage and Beans

When we travelled to the distant north of Spain, we bought back some foodie memories with us. Well, a little more than memories, we bought back beans and smoked meats to make the famous Fabada.

It´s one of those dishes which needs the authentic smoked blood sausage (morcilla), chorizo and pork to achieve the “real” taste, but it also lends itself to “making do” depending on the ingredients you have to hand.

The ingredients given below can be interpreted fairly loosely to make a lovely bean, ham and sausage stew if you can´t get hold of the Asturian versions.  I also like to be lighter with the meat than some people, so feel free to add more. This recipe will serve six as a main course, but it does keep well for about 5 days in the fridge.

You´ll need

  • 1kg of Fabes (or any large dried white beans)
  • 1 small blood sausage
  • 1 or 2 chorizo (depending on the size)
  • About 100g piece of smoked or unsmoked or salted pancetta or pork belly (or use chunky lardons)
  • ½ teaspoon of saffron or add a teaspoon of sweet smoked paprika or pimentón instead
  • 2 bay leaves

This dish really improves by making it the day before you want to eat it, although it´s not essential, and if you have an earthenware bowl to cook it in, even better!  The day before making the dish put your beans into soak in plenty of water.  In a separate bowl of water soak any smoked or salted meats.

Using the water you soaked the beans in, put them in your cooking pot with about a depth of  3cm of water above them.  Bring to the boil then skim off the froth which will appear. Dissolve the saffron in a little water and add to the beans (or add your pimentón or paprika directly to the water).  Now add the pork belly or pancetta, bring to the boil and skim and then repeat with the chorizo and morcilla.

Add the bay leaves, make sure all the meat is pushed to the bottom and then cook very slowly for about 2 or 3 hours.  Try not to stir as this will break the beans, shake the pot if necessary and top up with boiling water if needed.

You should be left with thick creamy beans which still hold their shape.  I like to thinly slice the meats and sausages so they can easily be eaten with a spoon.  This is a “plato de cuchara” or a “spoon dish” as they call it here.

Serve with a good robust red wine, plenty of bread and I like a tomato and garlic salad on the side. ¡Buen Provecho!

Amazing Asturias – Part One

Looking back over our photos of our recent holiday in Galicia and Asturias, I found it hard to pick just a few photos to share with you.  So….even though I left most of them back on my PC, I still have plenty of beautiful sights to tell you about.

We drove the 400km or so from our hotel in Galicias to our base in Asturias over the course of a day.  First we stopped in the beautiful seaside village of Cudillero for lunch where we ate our amazing Fabes con Almejas.  The village houses appear to be built on top of each other, clinging onto the cliffs, and painted in beautiful colours.

Our hotel ended up being a one bedroom apartment, which was great as we were there for 4 nights, right in the centre of a seaside town called Ribadesella (which translates as the bank of the River Sella).

We had a fantastic view of an old Hermitage from our bedroom window.

And to the right of it there was an amazing house, with the sea right behind it.

The next day we put on our walking boots and packed a picnic to head up into the mountains.  The weather didn´t bode well, but we pressed on to Covadonga to see the Basilica.

The clouds started to get lower, all very beautiful and atmospheric, but not really what we had hoped for.

We started the long, slow, drive up the twisting road to the lakes, and the fog came down.

Gorgeous View!

When we reached the lakes this is what we could see!

Time to get back in the car...

Walks were forbidden, there was no visibility so we made our way back down the mountain and through a village called Cangas de Onis where there is a Roman bridge.  Because of the weather, it seemed everyone else had had the same idea and we couldn´t park, so we took a quick photo from the car window instead.

High speed photography

Finally we turned off the main road to find a perfect picnic spot from where we chomped away on our Empanadas and Bollos Preñaos, looked at the cows and watched the kayakers.

Back at our hotel, we were determined to take at least a little walk as we were still all dressed up in our proper boots, so we took a stroll on our little beach, battling with the wind as we went on our way.

Finally, a hot shower and a walk into the centre of Ribadesella.

Followed by a well deserved drink and dinner at Casa Juanito in the main square.

We spent a wonderful day with some of Big Man´s huge family, stopping first to pick up his aunt and uncle in a town called Salinas.  It  has an amazing sea front walk with an outdoor museum of anchors from all over the world.  The walk ends with a spectacular view out to sea.

One of the family has an Hórreo in their garden – these are ancient storage areas (now preserved and highly valued) made of stone or wood and on raised legs.  Couldn´t resist taking some snaps, even though the lady of the house was embarrassed about her washing hanging up to dry underneath!

So….still more to come from our last day in Asturias and our stop in Salamanca on the way home.  Enough for today though, we´ve covered quite a few miles together already.

Galicia and Asturias – Where You Could Never Go Hungry!

Oporto - still beautiful in the drizzle

We´re back from an incredible 8 day, 3500km trip to the north of Spain.  We drove west from Malaga then north through Portugal, stopping off briefly in Porto then to our first base of Sanxenxo in the Rias Baixas in Galicia. After three days in Galicia we headed east and based ourselves for four days in Ribadesella in Asturias and then finally headed back south, stopping off in León and then staying the night in beautiful Salamanca.  Our final leg of the journey home allowed for two quick stops in Caseres and Mérida….phew, what a trip!

I thought I´d do a few posts on this trip over the next few weeks, and share some of the experiences we had…food, drink, sights.  I do hope you enjoy them.

Galicia is very famous for its Pulpo a la Gallega, so we enjoyed this several times.  A particularly good one was eaten in the beautiful town of O Grove.

Pulpo a la Gallega - in Galicia

We took a boat trip, which was fun despite the rain, to look at the Rias (which are estuaries) and to see where the oysters, mussels and scallops are cultivated.  We were fed freshly caught mussels, steamed open and served with a young, local white wine.  Perfect.

We ate SO many...the trays full of steamed mussels just kept coming!

In Santiago De Compostela, which is the destination for pilgrims and walkers on the Camino De Santiago (a mediaeval pilgrimage route), we admired the incredible cathedral and enjoyed a slice of their local cake (made with almonds and adorned with the symbol of Santiago – or Saint James – the Patron Saint of Spain).

Delicious with a strong cup of coffee

We also enjoyed several empanadas during our time in Galicia – which are made with both meat and fish.  Very tasty snacks indeed.

Hard to resist...so we didn´t!

In a very pretty fishing village called Cudillero, where the houses appear to be stacked one on top of another, we ate our first Fabas.  Galicia and Asturias have a great culture of soup type dishes made with their local white beans and served in different ways.  Another tradition is to put a huge tureen of the dish on the table and you just keep serving yourself until you can´t eat any more.  What a fabulous idea!

Go on..you can manage a few more!

These were served with local clams, which are bigger than the ones we typically see in Andalucía and the dish is called Fabas con Almejas.

HUGE and delicious clams

One day we went to Covadonga, which is a beautiful mountain top Sanctuary and took a picnic to eat further up at the lakes. The weather was so bad that when we got there we could only see fog so we drove back down to the River (the Sella) and enjoyed our Bollos Preñaos (which translates literally as pregnant rolls!) and Empanadas by the river.

Gives a whole new meaning to "a bun in the oven"!

The delicious rolls are made with bread wrapped round chorizo and baked as a ready made snack.

Empanadas with a river view

Dinner one evening was a delicious salad made with mushrooms and bacon and served with a delicious rosé wine.

Messy Mushrooms

Alongside this we tried a variety of local Asturian cheeses.  The most famous is Cabrales, a pungent blue cheese which we really enjoyed.  Our car was a bit stinky when we got home as we bought some back!

Gorgeous stinky cheeses!

We also ate an amazing rice and lobster dish, Asturian Pote (a vegetable stew with pulses), beautiful beef and ribs….but we were obviously hungry or greedy and never got to take photos of these.

A beautiful mediaeval town in Cantabria is Santillana Del Mar, and we found an amazing bar that did a huge selection of Pinxos (like larger sized tapas).

Decisions, decisions....

We managed to work our way through a few of them with no problems. Well…it was raining and we were waiting for the downpour to stop!

I´ll have one of those, ooh...and one of those...ooh and...

Our final night in Ribadesella we ate a wonderful Hake and Prawn casserole – but only remembered to snap it as we had almost finished.

Sorry...but we were hungry after a busy day of sightseeing

Near Leon we ate another incredible bean dish.  This one was made with what they called “Cinnamon Beans” (because of their beautiful colour) and was cooked with smoked pancetta.

Cinnamon coloured beans...so tasty

And finally, our last night in a very lively Salamanca was spent wandering around the city by night looking at the beautiful buildings and enjoying a variety of tapas.  These were Callos (tripe with chick peas) and Albóndigas (pork and jamon meatballs).

Tapeando en Salamanca por la noche - Nightime Tapas in Salamanca

So, it´s back to reality for us, but with happy memories, full stomachs and lots of ideas for new recipes in the months to come.  Hope you enjoyed sharing a little of our holiday with us.  Of course, it wasn´t all eating and drinking….next time I´ll show you some of the beautiful sights.  ¡Hasta luego for now!