Very Easy Chinese Style Chicken

Chinese Style Chicken (3)

My love affair with the slow cooker continues. My mum even gifted me one (thanks Mamma!) to take with me to Spain to use in the heat of the summer when I can’t (won’t) turn the oven on!

Chicken is a favourite in most households because it’s usually pretty economical (although I am very much an advocate of buying the best you can and eating it less often) and it offers so many ways to be prepared. Big Man and I are both thigh folk.  He’s a skin off, I’m a skin on and we’re both bone in! You pick what you like best and go with it, although breasts are more pricey and don’t really benefit from long slow cooking.

This dish was really simple to prepare, (although I’m sure it’s not authentically Chinese!) but the flavour was amazing. Actually, if you took the ginger and star anise out it was very similar to any meat dish in Spain prepared “al ajillo” ….with lots of garlic. Sorry about the photo…real life cooking and eating here folk….I just plated it up, took a snap and we tucked in!

Ingredients (to serve 4)

  • 2 tsp grated ginger
  • 4-6 crushed garlic cloves
  • 2 star anise
  • 150ml Chinese rice wine (or use dry sherry)
  • 2 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 5 tbs water
  • 8 chicken thighs or drumsticks (skin off is better for this dish unless you want to brown them first with the skin on)
  • Shredded spring onion to garnish (clearly I forgot this bit!)
  • Plain boiled rice to serve

Mix together the ginger, garlic, star anise, rice wine, soy sauce, sesame oil and water and pour over the chicken. Leave to marinate for a few hours or overnight if you have time.  Place everthing into a saucepan and bring the chicken and marinade to the boil.

Transfer to the slow cooker (or an ovenproof dish with a lid) and cook on low for about 4 hours (or 2-3 hours in a low oven) until cooked through and tender.

When done, remove the star anise. If the sauce is too liquid, reduce for a few minutes in a saucepan and pour over the chicken to serve.

(Tastes even better the next day)

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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!

Griddled Aubergines with Salsa Verde and Tomatoes

Our recent month in Spain was less of a holiday and more of a race to get through a list of household chores and maintenance, family visits and dealing with banks, bills and bureaucracy. Still, it had to be done, and there were of course a few special times of relaxation and fun with family and friends. Sometimes, though, it was nice just to have a couple of hours at our little cortijo (that’s a house in the country in Spain) and relax with a meal and a bottle of wine.

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The weather was all rather unpredictable going from an initial 40 degrees which knocked us sideways, to down below 20 degrees.  Then it jumped around from lovely to grey and cloudy, rainy and windy, then back to lovely. Honestly, we could have been in England! When we did have a comfortably warm day, we fired up the barbecue and cooked and ate outside. Some days we ate meat, but after a few weeks of a meat heavy diet, we craved vegetables. Luckily we were gifted an awful lot of salad so made a local gazpacho. Sounds weird but it works, trust me!

Big Man is not a fan of aubergines, but he did give this dish a go and grudgingly agreed that it was “comestible” – that’s Spanish for edible! Luckily we also had salmorejo (another variation of the more traditional gazpacho) my very favourite summer soup, to save him from fading away and I feasted on most of the absolutely delicious aubergine.

Ingredients (to serve 2 as a main course)

  • 1 large aubergine sliced into ½ cm slices lengthways and brushed lightly with olive oil on both sides
  • Some salsa verde (Spanish style) or just make up a mix of fresh olive oil with some finely chopped garlic, herbs and a pinch of salt
  • A large tomato, finely chopped
  • A finely chopped chilli (optional)

Fire up the barbecue if the weather permits or heat up a griddle pan. I never salt my aubergines as I really don’t find them bitter. Feel free to do this if you like, but don’t, of course, brush them with oil until you’ve rinsed them.

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Grill lightly on both sides and drizzle over some salsa verde. Cover tightly with foil or cling film so that they sweat slightly, and absorb the dressing at they cool down. Serve at room temperature with the tomato and chilli sprinkled over. That’s it, easy eh?!

For another grilled aubergine dish, take a look here.

Pasta with Kale (in the absence of Cavolo Nero)

January is a dark, gloomy month for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. For many of us it is a month of tightening the financial belt and loosening the trouser belt (whilst making plans to get fit) after the excesses of Christmas.

This is a dish which ticks all those resolution boxes – healthy, economical and it looks like Spring in a bowl, which is no bad thing. The garlic will ward away germs (or so my old Italian aunties always told me), it’s quick to prepare and you’ll feel comfortably full but without the feelings of guilt after eating this. Sounds good to me!

Even looking at it fills you with vitamins!
Even looking at it fills you with vitamins!

This dish was food for the poor folk…simple ingredients (although if you can afford to use your best olive oil, I’d highly recommend it) and no fuss to make.

Quantities are easily halved or doubled, I used regular kale as I didn’t have cavolo nero (also known as black leaf kale), and it was delicious. The colour was a more vibrant green than the almost black-green you get with cavolo nero.

Ingredients (to serve 2 people very generously)

  • 200g of kale leaves
  • Approx 100ml of extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • Maldon (or coarse) sea salt and black pepper
  • Grated parmesan to serve (optional)

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook the kale and 2 of the garlic cloves for about 5 minutes until soft. It needs to be slightly more than wilted, but not soggy. Drain and put into a food processor.

As you start processing the kale, add slugs of olive oil to the mix until you have a slightly sloppy paste – rather like pesto.

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Crush the remaining clove of garlic with a teaspoon of rough salt and add 2 teaspoons of olive oil then stir this into the kale mixture. Taste and season with extra salt and black pepper if necessary and then stir into your favourite pasta, making sure you keep a little of the cooking water to loosen up the pasta if necessary once you have added the kale.

To serve, add grated parmesan if liked and some folk even add a little extra drizzle of olive oil. Go on, I won’t tell anyone!

If you’d like to see how we make our olive oil in Spain, click here.

Pollo al Ajillo – Chicken with Garlic

Well, it’s been quiet around the blog for the last week or so. But for good reason. We’re in England with family visiting from Spain and we’ve been having a wonderful time doing family and tourist things, walking our feet off, talking our heads off and eating and drinking far more than is probably necessary…but such fun!  As a little reminder of Spain, here’s a Spanish dish which is equally good for an informal meal or a special event, Chicken with Garlic.

Ajo (the “j” is pronounced like the “ch” in the Scottish word Loch) means garlic and ajillo translates as “little garlic” which is ironic as this dish contains plenty of garlic! It’s a simple cooking technique which is used with various meats in Spain and is served as both a main dish and as a tapas (usually with the meat cut into bite sized pieces). Don’t let the simplicity of this dish trick you into believing it doesn’t taste special, it packs a lot of flavour and because it can be prepared ahead and in large quantities, it’s a fantastic dish for entertaining.

 

Pollo al Ajillo (1)

To serve 6 people

  • 1 whole chicken cut into joints (or use individual joints)
  • 1 head of garlic, about a third of the cloves peeled and cut into thin slices, the rest left in their paper skins
  • Olive oil
  • A glass of fino or white wine
  • A few sprigs of rosemary (optional)
  • Seasoning

Pollo al Ajillo (3)

Season the chicken then fry in a little oil until browned all over. Now add all the garlic, the rosemary and the wine, reduce to a gentle bubble and cover with a lid. Cook for about an hour (turning a couple of times during cooking) until the chicken is cooked through). Check the seasoning and adjust if necessary. Sprinkle with some chopped parsley and serve with plenty of bread to mop up the juices.

For another, more elaborate, chicken dish, why not take a look at my recipe for Pollo en Pepitoria?

Ravioli Making – Fun on a Hot Summer’s Evening

Some things are more fun when done with pals. Ravioli making is one of them. Just ask Chgo John.  Luckily my lovely neighbour Denise was willing to give up a few hours of her time and we had an evening of ravioli making and eating in the garden.

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We made four kinds of fillings.

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Potato with caramelised onion and parmesan, mixed mushrooms with spinach and nutmeg, ricotta with lemon zest and coriander and mascarpone with rocket and sun-dried tomatoes.

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No quantities except to say we made pasta with 500g of flour and 5 eggs. This made about 70 ravioli (with some leftover dough too), although we didn’t manage to eat them all. We did give it our best shot though!

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We were well lubricated with wine as I believe it is actually illegal to make ravioli without a glass or two to hand.

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We served some with tomato sauce and others more simply with olive oil and parmesan.

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Summer cooking, summer eating. Everything tastes better eaten outdoors on a hot summer’s night don’t you think?!

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(I know they’re not the best shots in the world but they were “working” snaps and it got darker and darker as the evening went on – naturally – I hope you enjoy the atmosphere of the evening as much as we did despite this!)

Skating on Thin Ice – Skate Wing with Prawns

Well, with my track record of falling into holes, walking into lamp posts and generally bumping into things, it´s probably a good thing that there are no local ice rinks for me to run amok in!

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Best to stick to Skate (ray) of the edible variety.  Here´s a super simple dish, which is quick to cook if the skate is already prepared. If not, check out this “how to” post. Aside from using the biggest frying pan you can get your hands on, it´s all plain sailing. Or skating…

Ingredients (per person)

  • 1 whole skate wing (or half if it´s as enormous as the one I bought)
  • Half a cup of raw peeled prawns (or you can use cooked)
  • Flour for dusting
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Lemon
  • One clove of crushed garlic
  • Olive oil and butter for frying (or you can use just oil)

Dust the skate wing in seasoned flour and fry gently on both sides until lightly browned. Remove and keep warm while you fry the garlic and prawns until the prawns are cooked through and pink (if raw) or just warmed through if already cooked.

Squeeze a little lemon juice into the pan with the prawns and garlic and the oil/butter then pour over the skate to serve. Easier than a triple salchow. Whatever that is.

If, like me, you prefer a walk in the bright Winter sunshine to skating, hope you enjoy this shot of the beach at Bexhill on New Year´s Day morning where we walked with the dogs. Yes….we´re back in England to finish of the last bits of work in House No 2!

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Out with the Old and In with the New – Broad Beans, Garlic and Chicken

Things are really shaping up in our huerto, our little vegetable garden. Yesterday the last of the broad beans were harvested and they leave us with a nice patch to fill with something else tasty.

Our garlic, which is a variety from Granada, is now just about ready for harvesting.

As you can see, it´s a small variety, slightly pink, and it tastes very sweet.  Here it is alongside one of our onions which we had expected to be bigger, but no matter…they taste great.

So, we now need to pick our 320 garlic bulbs and dry them out a little. We already have a waiting list of people who want a few, so my worries about how on earth we would use that many are already being addressed.

In order to celebrate the new garlic I made a simple dish of chicken joints, potatoes, small chunks of a whole lemon, a bulb of the fresh garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil and some rosemary and oregano from our garden. I was inspired by this lovely simple recipe from Mary Cadogan over on the BBC website, but played around with it – I hope she won´t mind!

Into the oven it went, after having a good slug of local dry sherry poured over, where it sat cooking slowly at a medium heat for about 2 hours.

A little salad of finely chopped tomato with some chopped garlic and the last few fresh broad bean pods was my final tribute to the garden.

Simple, tasty and a perfect pick me up for the Up the Mountain garlic pickers!

Spring is Sprung – New Life in the Huerto

Spring is sprung,
De grass is riz,
I wonder where dem birdies is?
De little birds is on de wing,
Ain’t dat absurd?
De little wing is on de bird!

Apologies, but I do enjoy nonsense and nursery rhymes! Yesterday at 6.14am, Spring officially began here in Spain.  Unfortunately someone forgot to tell the weather and the warm temperatures we have been experiencing dropped overnight.

No matter, we have been putting some early plants into our veggie patch, but Big Man has been creating mini polytunnels to protect them on cold days and nights.

In about a week we´ll be eating our first broad beans, and the onions are also coming on nicely.

We planted a totally ridiculous 280 cloves of garlic, and are now planting lettuce between the rows.  Big Man will cover them with netting or the little sparrows will think they´ve been invited to a Michelin starred restaurant.

We planted a first “wave” of tomatoes, peppers and chard.

The tomatoes are already producing flowers.

The chard is almost ready to start picking.

But helpers are thin on the ground here. Better to sleep in the warm sun room.

Luna says "Just five more minutes and then I´ll come and help"

Maybe I´ll get up and help.

Did someone mention digging?!

Maybe not, I´ll just put my head down and no one will notice I´m here.

Think I´ll just stay here and wait until my fur grows back after the home haircut Mum & Dad gave me...

And a final piece of “newness”.  John From the Bartolini Kitchens, very kindly sent me a fantastic tutorial on how to insert the Flag Counter I now have right at the very bottom of my blog page. If you scroll down, down, down you will see that it is now starting collect flags from the countries that have visited my blog. Very interesting and a lot of fun to check up on. Maybe one day I´ll get to visit more of them.  Thanks John, my brilliant long lost Italian cousin!

In the Garden – February 2012

It´s been such a long time since I talked about the garden or the vegetable patch. Naturally, it´s still winter, the soil is resting.

But not quite. It´s been an exceptionally mild winter, and while things could still change, there are signs of life.

My cyclamen, bought before Christmas, continues to stun us with its beauty.  I am doubly shocked as I generally manage to kill pot plants within a few days.  What do I do next with it? It currently sits inside our sun room, with the door open all day and sun in the afternoon. It seems very happy.

Some of our geranium cuttings are already producing little flowers.

Daffodil and narcissus bulbs planted last year (bought back from the UK) are flowering.

My parsley survived the winter outside, this is the first year this has happened.

Broad beans and onions in their little winter shelter.  We open the door and let the sun in during the day and we´ll be eating beans again in a few weeks.

Plenty of garlic for the year ahead. I thought it was only a month away from being ready, but wise old Big Man tells me I need to be much more patient. In the background one of our lemons and our artichoke plants which are already producing baby artichokes.

Our other lemon took a battering in the recent high winds, but still has plenty of lemons and produces new flowers with each new moon.

We don´t tend to grow our produce from seeds as many of Big Man´s family do this on a large scale for a living. We are going to risk some early planting. Nothing to lose, we think. Basil, thyme, chard, spinach, frying peppers, bell peppers, some more lettuce and some salad tomatoes.

Winter has been kind to us this year. Fingers crossed it won´t take us by surprise in the next few weeks.