Travelling Hopefully

I believe there is a saying which goes something like “To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive” – well I have to say that I can´t quite agree with Robert Louis Stevenson. But I expect he wasn´t heading to London for eight days to visit my family and friends, so I´ll just have to excuse him.

I arrived home late last night to be met by my wonderful Big Man bearing flowers.  Lilies…my favourite. It´s been a while since he bought me flowers, (impossible to get where we live) so the surprise romantic gesture was very much appreciated.

Being a canny packer of cases, I always go right to the limit on my baggage allowances.  20kg in the suitcase, 10kg in the hand luggage and the biggest hand bag possible.  No, I most definitely don´t travel light!  I went out loaded with Christmas presents (can´t tell you much about them though, as I don´t want to give any surprises away).  The case was also packed with packs of chorizo and morcilla to make Fabada Asturiana, plastic lid things to “flip” your tortilla, chillies from my garden, wine glass/tumblers, gifts from my recent holiday, chocolates for my niece and nephew, books to entertain young children on a long flight to the States to see their grandmother, Spanish fans for a friend´s mum, olives, biscuits….well, I think you get the picture.

The advantage of this is that once you´ve unpacked and “shared the love”, you have an almost empty suitcase waiting to be filled with gorgeous things to take back home with you.  Of course, I wasn´t about to go home empty handed.

I carefully packed some lovely pictures done by the wonderful children I got to spend time with.  A very flattering portrait of me done by my 10 year old niece, Lara.  Look at that fabulous waist and bust…if only! A lovely thank you card from 4 year old William and his 2 year old brother Matthew.

Chocolate.  And then some more chocolate.  If you haven´t tried Quality Street, track it down!  Lots of lovely chocolate toffee and caramel sweets in a tin.  They just take me back to childhood Christmases when these were a very special treat.  And then you get to use the tin to put your cakes in!

I had a bit of a mad fabric buying spree.  I´m laying some of the blame for this on my new blogging pal Evie, over at Pendle Stitches.  I was the very lucky winner of this beautiful shawl that she had made, and it was waiting for me at my parents´ house.  Very handy actually, as it was a little nippy last week in London.  Anwyay, Evie suggested some wonderful fabric shops for me to look at in London.  The fabrics were amazing.

"Weigh" too much fabric!

Eventually I bought a huge variety of fabrics in Tooting Broadway, my old neighbourhood in South London, plus an amazing discovery of some vintage fabrics, still neatly folded and never taken out of storage since about 1950.  They almost tipped me over the baggage allowance, but as there were only 31 people on the flight home (I felt like I was on my own private jet), the check in girl turned a very kind blind eye to my extra kilo…20 metres of cotton, linen, silk, jersey, viyella, crepe and who knows what else do weigh rather a lot.  I also bought a new magazine to inspire me.

I´ll make that one day.....

And finally, to food.  My mother stocked me up with all sorts of odd and bizarre things I find hard or expensive to buy out here.

All spice berries, Golden Syrup, Maldon Salt.

Sugar and spice and all things nice

Loaf tin liners and vanilla for my baking.

My mum made me a wonderful beef curry with lots of vegetable curries to accompany it.

Best friend Ria made a fantastic chicken and cannellini bean casserole (recipe another day) even though she was feeling poorly last week.

And talking of food, guess what?  I got to meet one of my new blogging pals face to face.  It was Mad Dog, who was not in the least bit mad and not remotely dog like!  We spent a happy and all too short hour in Bar Italia, in the heart of London´s Soho, drinking coffee and chatting about food, Spain, food, photography, food, ourselves.  What a great guy he is, and he gave me a fantastic gift of the film Tampopo, a comedy featuring…yes you´ve guessed…food!

So, now I´m home again and looking forward to getting back into my kitchen. Big Man has already started stocking up on autumn fruits and vegetables.

A neighbour gave us a crate of Membrillo, or quince, so we´ll be making quince jelly this weekend.

Another neighbour gave us some enormous pomegranates (or Granadas) from his tree.  I may just have to eat them as is, as I adore them served simply.

I also have a couple of kilos of broad beans, but I think you already know many of my recipes for this gorgeous little vegetable.

So, time to unpack, wash, cook and sew.  Sounds odd, but I can´t wait!

PS. Am looking forward to a few days of blog catching up – really looking forward to seeing what you have all been up to.


Green Summer Vegetable and Chicken Casserole

Now that we are starting to have a little drop in temperatures during the day, and a nip in the air first thing in the morning and last thing at night, we know that autumn is just around the corner.  While this means saying a gradual farewell to summer, it also means an autumnal welcome to the next season and the food and change in cooking it brings.

Off out for a busy morning and knowing I was not going to be in the house while it was still relatively warm, prompted me to cook the first casserole for a long time.  We came home to delicious chicken, vegetable and brothy smells and apart from opening the wine and grabbing the loaf of bread left for us earlier that morning on the gate by Bread Man, there was nothing more for us to do other than set the table and enjoy lunch.

The dish was a celebration of almost the last of many of our summer vegetables.  The bobby (french) beans finally started producing yellow as well as green beans, with kilos of them stored in the freezer for the months ahead.  The green peppers are still doing well, we´ll see how much longer they last.  Our onions have dried out nicely and are sweet and delicious and I had been hoarding the last handful of potatoes we had left from our first ever potato crop.

Into a big pot went two large legs (drumstick and thigh) of our free range chicken, some chopped peeled potatoes, large chunks of courgette given to us by a neighbour along with some whole unpeeled garlic cloves.  A few chopped green peppers, a roughly chopped onion, a few handfuls of green beans and some seasoning finished off the ingredients.  I covered everything with water and bought it to the boil then put a lid on the pot which then went into a very low oven for about 5 hours. You could, of course, cook it much more quickly on the stove top with equally good results if you´re not off out shopping for the morning!

And that was it…memories of summer and anticipation of autumn all in one delicious bowlful.

Am off to London to visit my family tomorrow for a week.  Will try to keep up with all your lovely blogs and posts, but apologies if I can´t always comment.  Looking forward to a proper catch up when I return!

Slow Cooked Ox Tail – Rabo De Toro

So, the damp weather was looking like it was going to continue, and my yearning for comfort food followed the same pattern.  I love casseroles and braised dishes with lots of sauce to be slurped up with a spoon or soaked up with bread or creamy mashed potato.  It was time to make something warm and comforting.  A hug in a casserole dish.

Hearty Winter Food

Oxtail used to be, I understand, a cheap and cheerful cut of meat to buy.  It needs long and slow cooking, so this probably influenced the price.  It now seems, from my recent visits to the UK, to be a bit of a “gastro pub” highlight and the price has correspondingly increased.  Even in Spain, where it´s sold as “Bull´s Tail” it´s no longer that cheap a cut of meat to buy.  But hey, sometimes you´re worth that little bit extra and it´s that delicious, it´s worth all the love and long cooking it needs.

I made a large pot of this delicious casserole which gave me 2-3 main portions plus enough meaty sauce left over to give me a further 2 hearty bowls of oxtail flavoured soup.

Here´s what you need:

  • 1 ox tail, cut into slices. Your butcher should do this, or it will come ready prepared.  Mine weighed about 1.2kg
  • 3 medium carrots, diced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 medium courgettes, diced
  • 2 sticks of celery, diced
  • 3 fat cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 jar or tin of cannellini beans
  • 1 tin of tomatoes, crushed or chopped
  • 2 heaped teaspoons of tomato puree
  • 1 bottle of red wine, less a glass for the cook
  • 1 mug of water or stock (beef, chicken or vegetable)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Approx 2 tablespoons of plain flour
  • 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • A large, deep, ovenproof dish with a lid


Take One Ox Tail...


Chop. Chop

First prepare all your vegetables and put them to one side.  No need to keep them separate as they´ll be cooked together.

Now coat your pieces of ox tail in flour and after heating the olive oil in the ovenproof dish, brown them on all sides.  Don´t rush this part as, if you over crowd the pan, the meat will steam and not brown.  Put the ox tail to one side.

Start to brown...

In the same pan, and with the oil that remains, add the diced vegetables and make sure they all get coated in oil.  Put the lid on and let them sweat for about 5 minutes.

Turn your oven on low (about gas mark 2).

Put the meat back into the pot, add the beans, tomatoes and tomato puree, stir and bring it up to a simmer. 

Bring to a simmer

Now add the wine and water, season lightly (you can adjust this when the dish has finished cooking) and bring it to a simmer once more.

Put a lid on the pot, and the whole thing now goes into the oven where it will cook slowly for at least 4 hours. I like the sauce to thicken a little so it usually ends up cooking for 5-6 hours.  It won´t dry out, you have plenty of liquid in there.  Every couple of hours check on it and give it a stir.  If it does look like it´s getting too dry for your taste, add a mug of boiling water.

When the cooking time is up (and it´s a very forgiving dish), take it out and check for seasoning.  If it´s too liquid, simmer on the hob to reduce a little. You can eat it immediately if you wish, but it´s a dish which really does improve if left until the next day.  Leave to cool completely.  If you find your have a layer of fat on the top the next day, you can remove this before heating up and serving.

It looks like a lot of meat, but it´s nearly all bone.  How many it serves depends on how hungry you are and how much sauce, vegetables and potatoes you serve it with. Any leftover sauce and can be diluted slightly with stock or water and served as a filling soup another day.