A return to the simple life

Although our time in Spain will be limited to about a month (a long “holiday” some might think, but for us it’s a case of changing one home for another for a short while) we need to make the most of our time here. Sorting out a house and garden that have been looked after but not lived in for many months. Catching up with family and friends. Running around and sorting out paperwork and the dealing with the “officialdom” that invariably comes with it.

Mayo 2015 010

The plan had been to eat out frequently – a menú del día (a daily set menu in many restaurants) is not expensive in Spain – and not to spend hours in the kitchen. So far, I haven’t spent too many hours in the kitchen, but the lure of fresh, local ingredients which are quick and easy to prepare has been irresistible. Add to that the fact that we can also cook outside and it’s mostly quicker to just get cooking while multitasking with the gardening.

We’ve eaten chicken (reared by a pal who gifted us two hefty chicken thighs and drumsticks) cooked in one of our cazuelas with peppers, onions, garlic, olive oil and wine.

Pollo a la Cazuela (1)

And rabbit, marinated in a paste made of thyme and rosemary from the garden with our own olive oil and lemon and a neighbour’s garlic then cooked on the barbecue.

Conejo a la Barbacoa (1)

The weather may have gone from 40 degrees to grey and miserable, but with full bellies and a glass of wine, who can complain?!

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Chargrilled Aubergines in Tomato Sauce

Our little veggie garden is reduced this year, we planted only peppers, aubergines and tomatoes as we were too late back from England to plant much more and we will head off to the cooler shores of the English South Coast again before all the vegetables have been harvested.

Chargrilled Aubergines in Tomato (7)

Never mind, we are still trading with neighbours and this year we have an impressive crop of aubergines (eggplants). Interesting for me as a cook as Big Man has never been a huge fan, but he knows I love them. It makes me think about different ways of serving them to see if I can convert him. I don’t think he’ll be signing up for Aubergine Weekly yet (if such a magazine existed), but he’s eaten everything I’ve made so far without that look on his face. You know, the one children do when they are about to put a sprout/piece of liver/most hated food into their mouth!

Today’s dish was a quick one as it was so hot. We ate it with Socca, but more of that another day.

Ingredients (to serve 2 as a main dish)

  • One large aubergine thickly sliced and cooked on the griddle or barbecue on both sides until lightly charred (no need to salt and don’t brush with oil if doing on the bbq as you’ll only end up setting fire to them)
  • About two cups of tomato sauce (this was prepared in advance) Soften 3 crushed cloves of garlic in olive oil, then add 1 kilo of crushed peeled tomatoes, 2 tablespoons of tomato purée, half a teaspoon of salt, a few good grinds of black pepper, half a teaspoon of sugar (if required), a glass of red wine and a few stalks of basil leaves. Simmer for about an hour, remove the basil and it’s ready. This will give you about 6-8 cups of sauce

Chargrilled Aubergines in Tomato (4)

Cut the grilled aubergines into bite sized pieces and simmer in the sauce for about 10 minutes and you’re done! This is also wonderful cold and great over pasta.

Chargrilled Squid and Courgette

Now that I’m back Up the Mountain I am enjoying catching up with some of my cookery books. A favourite chef/author of mine is Rick Stein, I love the simplicity of most of his recipes and his passion for fish and the sea. In fact, he’s my imaginary chef boyfriend…a man who like to cook fish and used to have a Jack Russell. What more could a girl want?

Ok, enough of my middle aged fantasies and onto a simple recipe inspired by one from his book Fruits of the Sea.

Squid, sardines & Salad (4)

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

  • 4 small squid cleaned but left whole
  • 1 large courgette cut into thick strips
  • 1 small chili finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of crushed garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Salad

Marinate the squid in the oil, chili and garlic for about 30 minutes and cook on the barbecue (or in a very hot griddle pan) until slightly charred. While the squid is cooking, brush the courgette with a little olive oil and barbecue alongside it.

Make up a salad with the freshest ingredients and a vinaigrette with lemon juice in place of vinegar and add some grated lemon zest to it.

Cut the squid into bite sized pieces and serve it with the courgette on top of the salad. Pour a glass of wine, put your sunglasses on and pretend that it’s sunny….because here it’s been doing a very good impression of not being summer for the last few weeks.

Best Friends and Favourite Foods

I am truly blessed when it comes to friends. I have some extra special best girlfriends who have been there for me through the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, the youth and the wrinkles. Ria and I met at school, a wonderful convent in South London, and have been best friends ever since.

We laughed through our school days, she sent me stamps to write to her when I went to University as I was poor and she was earning. She also gave me a sewing box as a going away gift and still, to this day, gets me to adjust her clothes and sew on buttons. We even worked at the same company for a few years and mopped up the tears through tough endings to relationships in later years.

She invited me to a weekend with friends in Scotland without telling me we would be walking part of the West Highland Way. She knew I would have refused, but we had fun and I forgave her, eventually.  Then I told her she was doing a run to raise money for Charity and she didn´t complain once.

Hot, sweaty but very happy with what we achieved!

We know and love each other´s families like our own, and also know our way around each other´s kitchens. Very important indeed.

When we both hit 40 within a month of each other (not soooo long ago), we threw a massive party then went off on a Round the World Trip.  I have a lovely photo of us on our last day before we headed back to London. It was taken in Hong Kong on the Kowloon ferry. We don´t look glamorous, or made up. In fact we look exhausted, a little chilly, but happy. We had spent about 3 months in each other´s company 24/7 and not a cross word or row, just fun, laughter and quite a few adventures.

I moved to Spain permanently six years ago, and we had to find a new way to make things work across the miles.  E-mails, phone calls and of course, visits.

So, when your best buddy comes to visit you don´t want to spend too much time in the kitchen as there is talking, laughing, dog walking and wine drinking to be done.

We barbecued squid which we enjoyed in the sunshine.

We ate what we jokingly called a “deconstructed chicken salad sharing platter for friends” – cold cooked chicken, spiced cauliflower, a platter full of delicious vegetables and topped with blanched then grilled asparagus with a lemon dressing and mayonnaise. Perfect for sharing.

And of course, my best friend knows how much I adore curry, so several happy hours were spent in the kitchen cooking up a storm, or the “Cortijo Curry” as we called it. Goat curry, tarka dhal, spinach and tomato curry, poppadums and roti.

I´ll share the recipes with you soon, but now I´m tired, happy and sad, and rather full up, so I´ll leave you with a photo of the perfect dessert for friends who don´t have time to make dessert.

Pork Ribs in Barbecue Sauce

Wait for them to cool down...!

Once of the nicest things about doing a blog is that you get to “meet” new people from all over the world and share a special little piece of their lives.  In this case it´s a lot of delicious recipes and talk about gardens and food and drink – all my favourite things!

We barbecue a lot here up our mountain, and finally invested in a gas barbecue last year.  I know, to the purists, it´s not exactly the same as using wood or carbon (although we do sometimes use this method too) but it´s so quick and easy and works well for us.  Mostly we keep things simple – a sprinkle of salt, some herbs, a dash of olive oil if the food needs it and we´re off!

I personally adore barbecue sauce, but rarely make it.  Big Man always insists he´s not a big fan of sauces, but whenever I make them he seems to enjoy them greatly.  I saw Greg´s delicious barbecue sauce over on his blog Rufus´ Food and Spirits Guide and thought I´d adapt it a little to make my own.  I only adapted it as we can´t get hold of all the ingredients here!  I only made a small batch and regretted it.  Big Man said on tasting the ribs and sauce “Ay, ¡que buena es esta salsa Americana!” which roughly translates to “Wow, this American sauce is so good!”.  Approval all round….

This was my version

  • A cup of chopped, peeled tomatoes
  • Half a cup of ketchup
  • 2 teaspoons of tomato purée
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons of brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons of hot chili powder plus one dried chili
  • 1 teaspoon of English mustard powder
  • 4 tablespoons of molasses (miel de caña)
  • A few shakes of Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt and pepper
  • Quarter cup of water

All I did was put all the ingredients together in a pot and simmer for about 10 minutes.  I kept some back and with about two thirds of the sauce I marinated my ribs.  It was meant to be overnight but we ended up eating them 2 days later.  I don´t think they suffered from the experience. 

There´s nothing like a good long soak in the bath!

When we barbecued the ribs, I heated the remaining sauce and we dipped our ribs into it, licked our fingers and had very messy but happy faces.

Merluza A La Barbacoa y Ensalada Arcoiris – Barbecued Hake & A Rainbow Salad

Dressed For Dinner

Fish Man came up trumps the other day with a whole hake in the back of his little van. It was rather large, too much for just Big Man and me, so as it was fresh it went into the freezer.

A few days later friends were coming over for lunch, and the sun promised to shine, so I decided to barbecue it.  A quick visit to the garden to gather mint and lemons, and out into the olive grove for the tops of the wild fennel which is everywhere, and I was set.

I had to gut and clean the fish, but if you´re buying from a fishmonger, I´m sure it will be cleaned for you.  It´s not that tricky (wear kitchen gloves though, or you´ll smell like a hake for the rest of the day!) but not for the squeamish.

Pat the fish dry with kitchen paper and salt the inside slightly.  Stuff it with bunches of herbs and thin slices of lemons, then sprinkle the outside with coarse sea salt.  No oil needed, but the salt will protect the fish and you´ll end up with lovely charred skin which I personally love to eat, but I know some people don´t.

Then it´s on to the barbecue for your hake.  We cooked it on a low heat and the lid on for about 15 minutes in total.  If you do use hake, but you could do this with pretty much any fish, it´s firm, so easy to turn when it´s half done.  Check it´s cooked by peeking inside – the flesh will be white when it´s ready.

Ready to eat!

I served this with a delicious salad which was so beautifully coloured, it didn´t matter that the sun went in and a big cloud hovered over us all through lunch!  I used chopped new boiled potatoes, cooked beetroot, oranges, thin slices of raw carrot and chopped chives. I made a simple dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, mustard powder, a clove of garlic, salt and pepper.

With so much colour, it can´t not be good for you...

Food for a sunny, or not so sunny day!