Summer Breeze

This summer finds us at our home in Bexhill on Sea. Which according to our family in Spain, is a good thing. They are all decidedly fed up of the 40 degree plus temperatures that are the norm there right now, rather than the exception. We are getting used to four seasons in one day. Loving the sunshine when we have it and racing outside to enjoy it. Joining in the with locals when it rains saying “oh well, it’s good for the garden”!

I haven’t managed to grow basil outdoors in England yet, so am sticking with my pot on the kitchen window sill.

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Outside in our little garden though, we’re making the most of every tiny bit of space and growing a few vegetables for the pleasure of seeing them grow. Green beans are happy climbing up against the wall and the first teeny tiny beans are starting to appear. Big Man is very entertained by the fact that the flowers in England are red. In Spain they’re white and he never believed me until this year that they are different. Oh he of little faith.

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We planted tomatoes which are starting to produce strange shaped fruit – we can’t remember what we planted – so we’re just waiting to see if they’ll turn red or we’ll be eating a lot of tomato chutney or fried green tomatoes this year.

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Various chilli plants also went in, but the little sticks telling us which were which were “reorganised” by the dogs at the time of planting so we have no idea what we’re going to end up with. We do have a very beautiful black chilli which is ready to be picked, so fingers crossed it’s a hot one!

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The parsley and rosemary are doing well, and the chives are happy doing their own thing.

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We also bought some mint roots from Spain (it seems to have a more delicate leaf than the plant we bought in England and is lovely in salads and infusions). The plants (grown in a recycled strawberry planter) are just starting to really get going.

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Of course, there’s room for flowers too, most of which were already here, I love the strong colours we’ve got. The white geraniums were grown from cuttings from a plant we had in a small pot.

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The pears continue to grow, hopefully we’ll get a lovely crop in the early autumn.

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And the dogs, naturally, are always on hand to offer advice, help with the digging and showing us the sunniest spots when we need to take a little breather.

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Sorry about the picture overload but the light was so lovely today…it made me happy to think how much you can do with just a little outdoor space.

 

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Summer Seafood Salad

As a child celebrations were always marked with great big meals for friends and family. Starters were a giant “antipasto” – the dish before the main meal. This became more elaborate the bigger the crowd and the grander the celebration.

Of course, the temptation was to fill up on the antipasti and then bemoan the fact that we were too full to enjoy the pasta, the meat, the fish, the cheese and salad and the desserts that followed. A lucky predicament to be in.

Seafood Salad (1)

My mum was great at pickling and grilling vegetables, a mainstay on the Italian table. But for me the highlight was always her seafood salad. Back in the day it wasn’t as easy to buy affordable, fresh seafood as it is nowadays. And to be honest, even now it’s still a luxury and for many people, living far from the coast, it’s not always available. This great thing about this dish is that, as you’re packing it full of so many fresh and zingy flavours, frozen seafood is fine. Yes, you heard it here, don’t be ashamed of making your seafood salad with frozen seafood – just be sure you defrost and cook with care and store chilled until serving. No one will be any the wiser!

Another great thing about this dish is that quantities are not important. If you can’t get squid, add octopus, if you can’t find mussels, leave them out or add a few more prawns. It’s up to you, so this is not really a recipe, just an inspiration for you to mix it up your way. What is important is to make it ahead, at least a few hours, or even overnight to allow the dressing to soak into the seafood and the flavours to develop.

Ingredients

  • For the seafood mix, use peeled king prawns, small prawns, sliced squid or baby squid and mussels. Ensure all the fish is cleaned and defrosted and well drained if necessary. Chop up a couple of cloves of garlic and reserve.
  • For the dressing make up a vinaigrette with two thirds extra virgin olive oil, one third acid (I use part lemon juice and part white wine vinegar), a sprinkle of sugar, half a teaspoon of made up mustard (or ¼ teaspoon of dried mustard powder) and salt and pepper. Put it all into a jar and shake it up well.
  • As a main course for 2 people, one tin of drained cannellini beans and two sticks of celery finely chopped.
  • For the salad a mix of finely chopped lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, red onions, and flat leaf parsley. For garnish and flavour at the end, some finely sliced hot chilli pepper and the zest of a lemon.

Keep the seafood separated out (each item takes a slightly different time to cook). In a wok or large frying pan add some olive oil and the garlic. Heat the oil gently and add the king prawns. Cook until the prawns have turned pink and the garlic is just starting to turn brown. Spoon out the prawns and garlic into a large bowl. Add more oil if necessary (no more garlic) and stir fry each of the seafood ingredients and add to the bowl. Mix the seafood together and allow to cool. Don’t worry if you are left with some lovely fish flavoured juices at the bottom of the bowl, these will add flavour to the dressing. If you are using pre cooked seafood, just mix it all together and move onto the next stage.

Seafood Salad (3)

After the seafood has cooled down, add the celery and beans and pour over the dressing. Mix well and chill for a few hours or overnight.

When you are ready to eat, bring the seafood and beans back to almost room temperature and add your salad ingredients. Mix, taste and adjust the seasoning. Plate up and garnish with the chilli and lemon zest.

Perfect as a filling main course, a special starter or as part of a celebration antipasto. Buon appetito!

One Pot Beef Burger with Caramelised Red Onions and Coriander …and “Fries”

Cooking “Under Fire”, or in difficult conditions brings a special set of challenges. You don´t have your usual array of pots and pan available to you. You also don´t have your usual stock cupboard with its range of flavours and spices at your fingertips. But you do have a good appetite at the end of a busy day, and you have tasty ingredients available to you which are not so easy to get hold of back home in Spain. So…you adapt. You work around the “problems” and enjoy the opportunity of a challenge.

I bought a large, deep frying pan with me which can be used for deep or shallow frying, braising and boiling and searing meat at a high heat. Here in the UK there are beautiful little waxy potatoes and superb beef from my new best friend the local butcher. I have learnt to cook more than I need when I get the chance, then to use leftovers the next day in another dish to save time.

Having made a delicious Ensalada Cateta (Orange and Potato Salad) for a taste of home, I made sure to cook double the amount of potatoes. Of course, I didn´t weigh them so I can´t give you exact amounts, but you´ll know how many you can eat!

Ingredients

For the burgers

  • 300g ground beef approx
  • One large red onion finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon of brown sugar or honey
  • 2 cloves of crushed garlic
  • A little olive oil for frying
  • One tablespoon of very finely chopped fresh coriander
  • Salt and Pepper

For the “Fries”

  • Potatoes cooked in their skins (new, or small if possible) and peeled (or not) and quartered lengthways
  • About a dozen mushrooms (I used brown) thickly sliced
  • Half a white onion thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves of sliced garlic
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Oil for shallow frying
  • One tablespoon of very finely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

To make the burgers, fry the red onion very slowly until tender then add the sugar and garlic and continue cooking very slowly until the onions start to caramelise. Season lightly with salt and pepper and allow to cool. Add the onion mixture to the minced/ground beef, then the coriander, and salt and pepper to taste. Form into two large of four small burgers/patties and chill until required (but do bring them up to room temperature before cooking).

Add a little oil to a large non stick pan and add the potato pieces. At a high temperature cook the potatoes until browned (you could also use raw potatoes, but it will take a little longer). Turn the heat down and add the onions, garlic and mushrooms and cook gently until the onions start to soften and release their liquid. Now add the burgers, continuing to cook slowly to ensure they are cooked through. Turn over to cook on both sides. Just before you are ready to serve, turn the heat up and brown the burgers on both sides and to cook off any liquid in the pan. Add the chopped parsley and serve.

Not quite burger and fries as most of us know, but very delicious and a great one pot dish.

PS. Think of me tomorrow and keep everything crossed – fingers, toes and eyes. We´re hopefully having our internet connection installed and I´ll be able to start reading and commenting again – yay!

Couscous – Two Ways

Now that the heat seems to have arrived (and looks to stay), we make the shift to summer food. Fast cooking, not so much time spent in the kitchen, and a lot of cooking on the barbecue…as long as we can find a shady spot for it.

Couscous ticks a lot of the boxes as it´s so quick and easy to prepare, and provides a blank canvas to work with. I´m sure many of you have your favourite ways of preparing it, and I´d love to hear what they are. Here are a couple of ways I´ve served it recently. Both versions serve 4 as a side dish and were made with 1 cup of cous cous prepared according to the packet instructions and served chilled.

Couscous with Mushrooms and Courgettes

  • 1 medium onion, 1 cup mushrooms and 1 medium  courgette all finely chopped and sautéed until soft.
  • Mix with the cous cous, season and dress with olive oil, lemon juice and some finely chopped parsley.

Couscous with “Gazpacho”

  • Inspired by our summer favourite, I mixed the cous cous with finely chopped red onion, tomato, cucumber, green pepper and mint and dressed it (after seasoning) with olive oil, white wine vinegar and some finely chopped mint.

Two simple dishes to inspire and feed you.

Boiled Gammon and Parsley Sauce

Some dishes, to me, are so typically English and bring back memories of food from my past.  Gammon is cured (usually wet cured in a salt brine) pork, from the leg.  It can be bought smoked, as an entire joint or as steaks.  It just can´t be bought in Spain, so I will have to work on a way to make my own.

Meanwhile, I picked up a few small joints of gammon on a pre Christmas shopping trip to the strange place that is Gibraltar.  A couple of hours´ drive from Malaga, it is a British Overseas Territory on the southern Iberian Peninsula.  I have to confess it´s not my favourite place as it seems to contain all that is bad about Britain packed into a very small area…but I don´t wish to offend and I am sure there is much more to it than I have ever seen on two brief shopping trips.

A trip to Gib, as it´s known to the Brits, allows us ex pats to stock up on things (particularly food) that we miss and either can´t get hold of or can´t be transported over easily by our visitors.  So, amongst many other food goodies, gammon it was.  I thought that Big Man would enjoy it as he loves pork and ham, but I knew it would be a new and interesting taste for him.

Gammon can be roasted or boiled and served hot or cold.  I decided to do a hot dish, boiled gammon with parsley sauce, which is a typical dish of comfort food from my homeland.

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • One small brined gammon (about 750g)
  • About 6 carrots peeled and chopped into large pieces
  • 2 medium onions peeled and halved
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 cloves
  • Water to cover
  • 6-8 medium potatoes boiled in their skins and peeled and halved to serve

For the parsely sauce you will need half a litre of home made béchamel sauce (infuse the parsley stalks in your milk before making it) and two tablespoons of parsley stirred in at the end. For extra flavour, use half milk and half stock (from boiling your gammon).

Simply put the gammon, onion, carrots, bay leaves and cloves into a deep saucepan and cover with water.  Don´t use salt – it will be fairly salty from the brine. Bring to the boil, skim off any scum that rises to the surface, cover and simmer gently for about an hour until the gammon is tender.

When the gammon is cooked, leave it to sit in the hot stock while you cook your potatoes and make the parsley sauce.  I used one cup each of milk and stock (which should both be cooled) , 2 tablespoons of plain flour, 1 tablespoon of oil and whisked everything together over a low heat until it started to boil and thicken.  This is my cheat´s way of making white sauce.  Finally I stirred in my chopped parsley and let it sit for a few minutes.

Remove the gammon from the stock and slice or chop (it will not slice easily when it´s warm, but I don´t mind chunks!).  I put some runner beans into the stock with the carrots and onions, bought them up to the boil and then strained the vegetables, reserving the stock for soup. Serve with the boiled, peeled potatoes and vegetables and enjoy the lovely steamy smells of gammon and parsley that will float up and fill you with a sense of comfort.

Squid with Garlic, Lemon and Parsley and a “How To”

We´re very lucky Up The Mountain to be able to get hold of fresh fish, even though we live 45km from the coast.  Having said that, I do keep fish in my freezer and cleaned squid is one of those things that keeps well and seems to suffer no ill effects from freezing. We don´t get a visit from Fish Man on Mondays, becuase there is no fishing on Sundays, but this morning he drove up, and this is what we bought.

One of the effects of little Alfi´s run in (literally) with Fish Man´s van is that when he hears him approaching and bipping his horn, he runs and hides under the nearest table, shaking and looking very sorry for himself.  Whilst I don´t like to see him frightened, at least I know he has learned a very important lesson as far as cars and dogs go.

Today I´m going to give you a super easy way of cooking squid, which I know can be quite scary looking. I´m also going to tell you how to clean them if you ever do get lucky enough to get hold of fresh squid for either cooking that day or freezing for another day.

Feeling brave?  Come on then, get those kitchen gloves on and let´s get cracking.

First of all you need to grab hold of that squid like you mean business.

Now pull the legs and anything that comes with them out and put to one side for the moment.

Now pull out the spine which looks like a sliver of clear plastic. Sorry this is a bit blurred – Big Man was in charge of photos and was excited about eating squid!

Rinse the body (including the inside) and go back to the legs which you will pull or snip away from any mucky bits in the middle just below the “eyes”. Still blurry, still excited!

From the centre of the legs (which are really tentacles!) pull out the hard centre core (or beak).

Rinse the legs and contemplate your bowl of lovely clean squid. Well done!

Now you can either cut the squid up or leave it whole.  For battered squid rings (covered in flour and deep fried)  “A La Romana”, you´ll need to slice. Today we´re just going to keep it very simple.

Sprinkle with salt and olive oil and put onto a hot griddle or into a frying pan (no oil needed as you have already put some on the squid). Keep the heat high, they´ll need a couple of minutes on each side depending on their size.  When the flesh is no longer opaque but a good white colour, turn and continue to cook.

Remove from the heat when done and either drizzle with salsa verde and lemon juice, or add some finely chopped parsley, garlic and lemon juice.  Serve with plenty of delicious crusty bread to mop up those amazing juices.

And if you can´t get hold of fresh squid, oriental stores often sell packets of squid tubes frozen which are very good!

Tasty Tabbouleh

Fresh and delicious

When you are lucky enough, as we are, to have a vegetable garden full of tasty summer tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers, you are always looking for new ways to serve them. Arriving home from our holiday, we found the veggie garden over run with peppers plus we had a few cucumbers and the first of our new batch of tomatoes turning red.  A neighbour had also left four huge and sweet onions in a bag hanging on our door.  What a great homecoming!

I love tabbouleh, but had forgotten about making it until another kind neighbour bought me round a bag of bulghur wheat.  I have very kind neighbours! It reminded me of how much I enjoy it and what a great use of my summer vegetables it would be.

It´s very easy and quick to prepare and can be made a little in advance of eating so that all the seasoning is absorbed and flavours your salad.

As I was finely chopping a mixture of tomato, cucumber, onion and garlic I realised how similar the base ingredients are to an Andalucían gazpacho, both the blended and the chunky versions.  I also added chopped green and red peppers. I´m not sure how traditional they are but we still have so many, it seemed silly not to.

The wheat had been cooked according to the instructions on the pack, all very simple and straightforward, and when it had cooled a little I added my chopped vegetables, chopped mint and parsley, salt, olive oil and plenty of lemon juice.

And that was it. I left it to chill a little then bought it back to room temperature before eating.  How simple and delicious was that?!

Gorgeous Green Gazpacho

Green. Gorgeous. Good.

Who says Gazpacho has to be red?  Well, if you promise not to tell the Andalucían gazpacho Police…I say it doesn´t!

In the vegetable garden at the moment, our cup overfloweth. Some things just can´t be canned or frozen – like cucumbers.  And those little green thin skinned Spanish peppers are best eaten fresh in salad, stuffed or fried.

I wanted to find a new way of using up some of my “greenery” and came up with this version of gazpacho.  It´s a stunning colour, tastes rather like juiced vegetables and I´m sure must be amazingly good for you and packed with vitamins.  Probably an excellent pick me up for the morning after the night before too.  We just drank it chilled as a pre lunch appetizer.

Here´s what I used, but if you do decide to give it a go I´m thinking celery, avocado and lime juice might also be great additions.

Two thin green peppers, one small cucumber (peeled), a small clove of garlic, a small bunch of parsley, 4 large leaves of raw chard (or spinach).

In a blender mix the vegetables with about 3 tablespoons of olive oil, white wine vinegar and salt (to taste) and a litre of ice cold water.

Blend until smooth, add a few ice cubes and chill until needed.  Looking as gorgeous as it does, it just has to be good for you!

Salsa Verde Spanish Style

Shake before serving...

Well, it´s not exactly Italian salsa verde in that there are no capers or anchovies…but, it´s a green sauce so that most definitely makes it a salsa verde!

Restaurants round where I live have good, simple food.  It can sometimes get a little repetitive, and often there´s no menu as they all serve pretty much the same selection of grilled meats (usually pork cuts) and some grilled or fried fish.  What you get though is fresh, well cooked and tasty food.  Often the meat or fish will come drizzled with a delicious garlic and parsley mixture blended with olive oil.

One of our regular local restaurants moves everything outside onto the “summer terrace” during the hot months.  This includes the cooking, so you can sit at your table and almost within an arm´s reach you have Luis at the bar, his partner Sonia in the kitchen area and the mountain views.  I noticed that Sonia makes her sauce up and keeps it in a squeezy bottle which she then uses to dispense the delicious mixture over the cooked food as it leaves the kitchen and is delivered to us by Luis.

All she does is finely chop parsley and garlic and blend with a season of salt and local extra virgin olive oil.  I make mine up in the food processor or in a small jug using the hand stick blender.  I have now taken to keeping a bottle of this in my fridge.  Sometimes I add the zest of a lemon, and squirt it over simple grilled dishes (including vegetables) to liven them up.

Sadly, no waiter service at home, so we dished up ourselves!

Do give it a go, it´s handy to have around and apart from looking pretty, tastes wonderful. Probably best not to eat it if you´re going out on a hot first date though!

Garlic and Herb Cream Cheese

 
Creamy and Delicious

Not long ago I posted on how I make Greek style yogurt.  Rachel from And Then Make Soup, commented that if I left the yogurt to drain for a little longer, I would end up with a spreadable cream cheese (rather like Philadelphia or Boursin). Thanks for the tip Rachel!

So, in a double experiment, I gave this a go.  It was a double experiment as I didn´t have any fresh milk.  I know this sounds a little odd, but in Spain it´s still quite hard to buy fresh milk, apart from in the larger supermarkets in the bigger towns.  Almost all the milk available here is UHT or Long Life.  It´s not a huge problem as I don´t take milk in my coffee and only really use milk in cooking.

So…with a litre of semi skimmed UHT at my disposal, I made a batch of yogurt to see if it would work.  Nothing ventured, I thought!  To my surprise, the process worked equally well as using fresh milk and tasted the same.

Instead of draining it overnight, I put a weight on it and drained for 48 hours.  I saved the liquid that came off it to make soda bread, but more of that another day.

This is what it looked like after 48 hours, straight out of the mould. 

After draining for 48 hours

I beat it up a little and then added one clove of crushed garlic, a sprinkle of sea salt and about 2 tablespoons of very finely chopped parsley.

Add your favourite herbs

The next morning I spread it on bread for my breakfast, and accompanied it with a very funny looking peach!  They´re called Paraguayas here, they have a whitish flesh inside and are very tasty.

Luckily I was not going anywhere that morning, as I was rather garlicky for a few hours!