So…you want to make a Paella?

Finally, I thought it was about time I put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) for this classic recipe. I went to a local expert, he´s called “Chef Colorin” and he makes the paellas for all the local fiestas. Be warned, there are LOADS of photos in this post, but I hope you enjoy seeing the process.

Of course, he wasn´t going to just  sit down with me over a glass of wine and give me the recipe. Much better than that, I was going to join in with the cooking. Fantastic, I thought, how many are we cooking for then Chef? Oh, not too many he told me, only 420 on Sunday. Get there about 11am he said, and we´ll show you the ropes.

Not one to balk at such a challenge, and I even wore the exceedingly unflattering hat (yes, I´ll show you the photos). It was one of the hottest and windiest days we´ve had for a while, so we couldn´t even put a shelter up for shade. Hey ho, the show must go on, and of course, it did.

We used 3 Paella pans which make 140 portions each. Feel free to adapt for smaller groups! The ingredients below are per 140 person pan.

Start with your base stock which is made in large 50 litre pots, sheltered from the wind today with a clever little device which goes round the base of the gas ring.

Into each pot goes 800g of stock cubes to 50 litres of water (at home, you´d probably use home made chicken or fish stock), 5 bay leaves, 2 tablespoons of sweet pimentón, 200cl of dry white wine, 500g each of chopped peppers and garlic, 1kg of monkfish, assorted fish bones, 400g of chopped tomato and 4 kilos of prawns with their shells on. Bring to the boil then simmer for about 20 minutes or so. Chef added 14 sachets of paella food colouring to the mix but at home we´d use saffron or turmeric.

Strain out the prawns, fish etc.

Then, wearing your glamorous outfit, count out 280 prawns (that´s so that everyone gets at least 2 each) and pull any meaty bits of fish off the bones. First come, first served on any extra prawns!

Lookin´good Chica, and rockin´that mesh hat look!

Is your fire ready to cook? I hope so, we´re going to begin.

Heat 3 litres of olive oil in your pan and add 8 kilos of chopped pork and season with salt to taste. Fry gently for a few minutes.

Now add a couple of heaped tablespoons of sweet pimentón.

Next comes a kilo each of red and green peppers and 250g of chopped garlic. Don´t forget the seafood – 2 kilos of chopped squid.

Stir gently while making silly faces.

Big Man has a go wearing the “Sherry Server” hat from Jerez!

Time to add 4 kilos of chopped tomatoes and a kilo of sliced roasted peppers.

Open the bags of rice carefully – 14kg for 140 people, which translates to 100g per person at home.

Such concentration – I take my work very seriously!

Add to the pan.

Stir gently into the sofrito with your giant paddle.

Now add30 litres of stock (which is 2 litres of stock per kilo of rice, plus a little extra – at home you would add 200cl plus a dash per 100g of rice…see, not so complicated!).

Keep that rice moving without burning your legs on the fire underneath the pan.

The professionals in action…

It´s much harder than it looks! (And don´t forget to taste).

Rookie cooking….

Remove from the heat and sprinkle over those prawns and the fish you set aside.

Was he trying to sneak one of my carefully counted prawns?!

Phew, job done. Time to show off an enormous loaf of bread baked by a local baker.

While we´re eating, you can enjoy a vaguely arty shot of a clean paella pan (don´t forget to oil it after washing up).

PS. Am off to London tomorrow for a week so will try to keep up with all your lovely blogs and comments, but apologies if some have to wait until after 20th June. Hope you enjoyed the paella making as much as I did, sorry it was so long but I really enjoyed putting it together. I do have to admit though, I was quite glad to take my “uniform” off and sit down in the shade of an olive tree with a large glass of tinto de verano.

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Setas Asadas – Fire Roasted Oyster Mushrooms with Poached Eggs

I have mentioned previously that we have some mushrooms growing, intentionally I might add, in our garage.  It was a slow start, but we are now getting regular supplies of oyster mushrooms to enjoy.

After a week away, they had gone a little crazy, and some of the ordinary mushrooms which we are also growing had turned into monsters which I´ll chop up and use in sauces or soups.

Back from London with not much in the fridge, we had to “make do and mend”, as my grandmother used to say.  The fire was blazing merrily, so we put some of the larger mushrooms onto our parilla (which is a grill which you can sandwich things between) and cooked them over the embers of the fire. You could do this over a barbecue or even under the grill (for grilling I´d recommend you brush them lightly with oil first).

Once they were done we seasoned them with Maldon sea salt, freshly ground pepper then drizzled some olive oil over and added a little squeeze of lemon juice. With a softly poached egg and a plate of jamon we enjoyed a simple supper but felt that we had dined like Kings!

PS. Our dogs Luna and Alfi stayed with our lovely neighbours while we were away. Our dogs love being there and they get loads of walks.  It seems this week they discovered the joys of goat manure and spent lots of time playing in it, which was much less fun for our neighbours who had to deal with two very stinky dogs.  Alfi is now in need of a major haircut and they were both happily exhausted yesterday when we got them home.  I took this snap of them “recovering” from their week of fun whilst trying not to laugh too much at Alfi´s lack of energy to get either into or out of the bed.

Throw another log on the fire please Big Man…

When I lived in London and the weather turned chilly (usually around the second week of August if I remember correctly), I cranked up the central heating and thought nothing more about turning it off again until about the second week of July.

Living in the Campo, we have no mains gas connection.  A few brave souls have installed gas fired central heating, but because our main living/dining/kitchen area is all one room, we decided that a fire would be enough for us.

Well, it should have been had the first fire we bought worked well.  It was a super duper one with a glass door that was meant to waft lovely warm air over us and fill the house with a cosy glow.  Mmm.  What we actually got was a smoky old fart of a fireplace that ate up wood like a starving person newly released from the fat farm and left us shivering and having to repaint the house which turned a yucky nicotine brown colour.

We saved up our pennies and bought a new fire which looked almost identical but to our great joy, actually worked! Now our fire eats wood like a super model on a diet, wafts warm air over us without suffocating us with smoke and warms the bathroom and hall which sit behind it until the next morning.

Getting wood to the house is a whole other matter.  No quick trip to the petrol station for a bag of logs, we buy several thousand kilos a year to keep us going, and have a very special way of getting it up the slope to our house. Just in case you should find yourself in the same situation, here´s our recipe for keeping toasty warm all winter when living in the almost middle of nowhere.

First, load 4 thousand kilos of oak onto your rusty but trust old lorry.  Feel free to substitute olive, almond or cherry wood as available that year.

Leave some of it in your little olive grove.

Drive your rusty but trusty lorry over kindly neighbour´s field and park by side of your house. Crank up the winch and start to manoeuvre a couple of bags into place outside your back door.

If you have a small dog called Alfi (or similar), take him up to the roof with you to help direct the winch. Small dogs have a particular talent for this I find.

Otherwise, get a friendly neighbour to help.

Let your eye wander over the sad looking vegetable garden enjoying a well deserved rest for the winter.

Place the wood where you want it.

Accept a kiss from your lovely but hot and grubby Big Man who has done all the work.

Light that fire, open a bottle of wine and relax.

Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire

Last night was 5th November, Bonfire Night. It´s a night much celebrated in the UK with bonfires, fireworks and all sorts of lovely outdoor parties and food.

Of course, here in Andalucía it´s a day like any other.  But for us, it was marked in a small way by lighting our fire for the first time this autumn.  We´ve been lucky, the evenings are turning chilly but are still mild enough for a warm sweater and an extra glass of wine to be enough to keep you warm through the evening.

Yesterday, though, Big Man decided it was time to have a fire, so he got it going with dry wood we had left from last year.  We still have to bring up a big stock of wood from the olives to get us through the winter.  Because the wood was so dry the fire was soon blazing away and I popped out to see a neighbour for an hour or two.

I got back a while later to find another neighbour happily settled in with Big Man, the fire crackling away and very jolly atmosphere filled the room along with the scent of olive wood.

They were in the process of carrying out some serious scientific research – which wine goes best with roasted chestnuts?  In order to ensure they were being completely thorough there was a bottle each of dry, semi sweet and dessert wine.  Because they are tidy boys, they had even put a cover on the table to protect it…as you can see, it was a very glamorous newspaper.  Honestly, we really are such classy folk up our mountain!

Anyway, we ate chestnuts, drank the wine, and to be honest I can´t actually remember which wine one was nicest…I´ll leave it to you to carry out your own research.