Crackling and Stripping

That’ll be the crackling on a pork belly, and the stripping of a Victorian Fireplace. Not some traditional pre Christmas party games, sorry to disappoint!

First, the food…for who can work on an empty stomach? Inspired by a recipe in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s book “River Cottage Everyday” (his crackling was made with coriander and fennel seeds), I gave a thick piece of pork belly a few minutes of love before popping it into the oven with some whole sweet potatoes and ended up with a fabulous lunch and lots of lovely cold pork for leftovers.

Cumin & Anis Pork Belly 009

Ingredients (to serve 4)

  • 3 heaped teaspoons of cumin seeds (coriander in the original recipe)
  • 2 heaped teaspoons of fennel seeds
  • 1 piece of thick-end pork belly (scored, if possible) mine contained 4 ribs
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 220C/Gas 7

Put the seeds into a mortar and crush them lightly. Rub the pork skin with the salt and pepper and just over half the seeds. Scatter the remaining seeds into a roasting tray and lay the meat on top. Cook on high for 30 minutes, turn the heat down to 180C/Gas 4 and continue to cook for 1 ½ hours.

If your crackling hasn’t fully crackled, turn the oven back up to high and check every few minutes until it is done to your liking. Remove the meat from the oven and leave it to rest in a warm placed (but uncovered) for about 15 minutes. It will stay warm and keeping it uncovered will keep the crackling “crackly”. If you need to leave it for longer before eating, remove the skin and keep that to one side, wrap the meat in foil and keep warm until serving.

Serve with your favourite veggies and be sure to make enough to enjoy leftovers another day!

Meanwhile, all other sensible folk are starting to get their homes in order for Christmas. We, on the other hand, pulled up some horrible carpet which will soon be gone permanently, then the floorboards in the dining room. This was to find the source of the mysterious bouncing floor. A rotten joist awaited us so Big Man set to repairing the damage.

Rotten Joist

Not wanting to be left out of the DIY session, I decided to start stripping the first of the three cast iron fireplaces which were fortunately not ripped out upstairs.

Little Bed Fireplace (1)

We have one in each of the bedrooms and one in the bathroom.

Little Bed Fireplace (3)Little Bed Fireplace (4)

As you can see, I think this may be a long job, but I have a lot of patience for jobs like this, and I love a challenge!

Another House Renovation Finished – Breathe In, Breathe Out…

Oh it’s been a long, long road with this one. But like the very first project we undertook together, we love this house. Little secrets emerged from behind layers of wardrobes, original flooring came back to life and today our lovely new tenants moved in.

For those of you who are interested, I’ll let the photos tell the story of a little 2 bedroomed (it was 3 bed when it was originally built but with only an outside loo and no indoor bathroom) Victorian mid terraced house.

Feb 2014 (19)41 Red Rd Completed 22 Nov 2014 (23)

The previous owners had lived there for 60 years, the lady (her daughter) who sold it to us told us that her parents had originally rented it then managed to buy it with a mortgage. She (the daughter) was born and bought up there, her mother lived out her final years as a widow in  the house and the daughter’s son and his children all had strong memories of spending time with their grandparents (and great grandparents) there.

Feb 2014 (30)41 Red Rd Completed 22 Nov 2014 (30)

Yesterday the previous family came to look over the house before the tenants moved in. I was anxious. We bring properties up to a modern standard (putting in central heating, efficient plumbing and decent kitchens and bathrooms).

Feb 2014 (10)41 Red Rd Completed 22 Nov 2014 (11)

We try to revive old floorboards if we can and replace them if we can’t. We paint our houses white so that whoever buys or rents them can make them their own. But they look very different from when we start and I was worried it might upset the previous family.

Feb 2014 (16)41 Red Rd Completed 22 Nov 2014 (1)

Fortunately there were tears of joy and smiles of relief as they saw fireplaces uncovered and restored that they had previosuly forgotten existed. Admiration for the floors and chuckles at the improved outside loo.

Feb 2014 (5)41 Red Rd Completed 22 Nov 2014 (15)

Time now to rest and focus on ourselves. Time for good food, and sleep and long walks on the beach.

 

A Juicy Pear

After the doom and gloom of our dismal cooking arrangements, I wanted to reassure you that all is not quite so bad Chez Chica and Big Man.

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We have inherited a beautiful pear tree in our new home. Well, it’s in the garden of course, not growing in the middle of the sitting room. Which would make day to day life a little awkward.

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It’s a tiny Victorian back garden but we still have the original wall and it’s south west facing, so it’s warm and sunny.

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Obviously, being without an oven, pies and crumbles have been out of the question but we’ve enjoyed sharing them, eating them with cheese, cooked and served with thick cream and some have been cooked and frozen for a rainy day. It’s raining today, I think we might be eating pears…

(For those of you with proper kitchens, pop over to Roger’s blog and be inspired by this beautiful recipe.)

Just Walking the Pups … and Knocking Down Walls

Well, I didn’t man to knock down a wall, I was actually stripping wallpaper off it. And a very tricky, sticky job it was too. Then a little crack appeared, so I tapped it and a little hole appeared. So I tapped it. And before I knew it, I really shouldn’t have bothered spending all that time carefull stripping the paper off, as the wall fell down. Well, strictly speaking it fell off, but either way…it’s another job for Big Man.

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At least the pups weren’t bothered by the dust and noise, they just made themselves a little nest of warm sticky wallpaper and bedded down for a snooze.

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Then it was time for a walk and a stunning sunset.

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The waves blew the cobwebs (and house dust) away.

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And there was even time to admire the architecture of The Colonnade, a beautiful listed building dating back to 1911.

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Recipes are thin on the ground this week, we’re eating old favourites but when the dust settles, I’ll be back with the food. Now…where’s that corkscrew?!

Still Here…and wearing my “Lady Builder” hat again!

Yes, we’re back Down by the Sea, and taking on another mad building project. Sorry, we’ve only been here since last weekend and have already settled back into our little home and started work. It’s been manic, but am trying to keep up with you all. Please excuse me if I’ve missed a few posts, or my comments have been a little short. You do know I miss you all…don’t you?

And because I know some of you like to see those “before” and “after” shots….here are a few “oh my god, what on earth are we doing this again for?” shots!

You all know I like a good bathroom challenge…..

A hip bath - always handy for washing your hips!
A hip bath – always handy for washing your hips!

An overgrown garden…bring it on!

2 Ago 2013 (11)

Hey, an original feature….let’s keep that one.

The rubble on the floor is part of the ceiling which has fallen down - hey, you can't have everything!
The rubble on the floor is part of the ceiling which has fallen down – hey, you can’t have everything!

Normal service will be resumed shortly….sort of.

Chinese Spiced Aubergines & Cast Iron Excitement

Don’t you just love it when something you want falls into your lap? Well, sort of. Best buddy Ria had been raving about a book she had recently bought by Gok Wan. It seems he makes programmes about making women look and feel good about themselves but as I had not been in the UK (previously at least) and seen his programmes, he was unknown to me. Then, it seems, he bought out a cookbook. As you do. I was very doubtful about the whole thing but got to look at her book which he had written based on his experiences as a young man working in his father’s Chinese Take Away Restaurant. Home cooking made speedy, and Ria had successfully cooked and  thoroughly enjoyed several recipes so I threw away my scepticism.

5 Spice Aubergines MAin

A few days later I was wandering round a Car Boot Sale, a particularly British institution I think, and someone was selling a brand new copy of the book for a couple of pounds. Cleary a sceptic like me (but unconverted) so I snapped it up. Well…I’ve already cooked several recipes from this book and every one has been tasty and easy. Even Big Man, who is not a particular fan of Chinese Food, has commented on the wonderful flavours each dish has. A result!

Here’s a vegetable dish that I made (inspired by a recipe for Braised Aubergine with Pork from the book) and served with noodles, no meat needed, the texture of the aubergines is wonderful and filling too.

Ingredients (per person as a main course or for two as a side dish)

  • 1 aubergine cut into cubes
  • Half a pepper, cut into slices
  • Half an onion sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
  • 2 tablespoons of light soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of dark soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of Chinese Five Spice
  • Water (about 200ml)
  • Sesame or vegetable oil for frying
  • Fresh chili (optional) I used dried as that’s what I had available
  • Finely sliced spring onion to garnish

Add a little oil to a wok or large frying pan and fry the onions on a medium heat until softened then add the aubergine, peppers and garlic. Turn up the heat and cook until the aubergines start to char at the edges.  Add the 5 spice, soy sauces (and chili if using) and then pour over water until the vegetables are about half covered. Stir gently, turn the heat down, cover with a lid or foil and simmer until the aubergines start to turn pulpy and the peppers are soft. Stir once or twice during cooking (about 10 minutes). Most of the liquid will evaporate and the sauce will be slightly sticky.

Sprinkle the spring onion over the aubergines to serve.  Wonderful with rice or noodles. Who needs a book to tell you how to dress to feel good about yourself when you can eat food like this and feel amazing?!

If you’re still craving Asian aubergine dishes, take a look at Rosemary’s beautiful Spicy Aubergine with Beef.

And before I wish you all a beautiful rest of the weekend, what do you think of the fabulous cast iron fire surround some pals gave to us? They of the lace and fabric are now giving us an amazing Victorian original which came out of their home during a refurb. Love that we’re using so much beautiful “preloved” stuff in our Down By The Sea Home.

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Finally, a gratuitous pup shot. Well…it is the weekend.

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Runner Bean Salad and Back Home Up the Mountain

Another hectic few days in the UK, but more of that in a moment. It was a good trip, and I even got to meet my blogging buddy Claire from Promenade Plantings. We had a wonderful little break sitting on the sea front, drinking rosé wine and getting to know each other better.  And then she gave me a bag of her super delicious peppery radishes. How lucky am I?!

As ever, I came back with some goodies to enjoy here Up the Mountain. A fabulous Ottolenghi cookbook, which is already inspiring me with some amazing recipes. Can´t wait to try them out.

I also bought myself some cooling racks for my baking which I had wanted for ages. Well, I had been balancing an oven rack on top of tin cans which wasn´t ideal. And in the shop, next to the baking racks I spotted some adorable mini loaf tins which just pleaded with me to leap into my suitcase. Of course, I obliged them!  I expect you have also spotted my guilty (not so) secret of Cheese & Onion crisps.

Big Man had kept busy in the veggie garden in my absence and picked tomatoes, courgettes and almost three kilos of runner beans…and I had only been away for four days.

Some of the beans went into a delicious salad at lunchtime today. Thinly sliced raw runner beans, tomatoes, sweet onions and green peppers with chopped basil and a lemon and garlic vinaigrette.  All from our garden, it did make me feel a very happy Chica.

Then, just when I thought my first day home couldn´t get any better, my lovely neighbour came round with a fantastic present for me. Look at this beautiful mixer. She said she had it stored away in her garage and hoped I would make good use of it. You bet I will!

And now for some exciting news. Regular readers may have noticed that I have been making more trips than usual back to the UK in the last few months. Well, they weren´t all back to London to visit my family, but to sort out a project that Big Man and I will soon start working on. We will be heading over to a little seaside town on the south coast of England, called Bexhill on Sea. In just under 3 weeks in fact, so not long to go now. We will pack up the car with tools, supplies, two dogs and almost definitely some Spanish cheese and jamon. We will drive across Spain and France and when we get to the UK we will be setting up base in a little Victorian house which is in need of some love and attention.

Scary carpet…this house needs some love!

Hopefully over the course of about a month we will be able to restore it to a liveable condition (while we live in it ourselves). We will be polishing floorboards, putting in a kitchen and bathroom, unearthing the little garden and breathing life back into it.

I think there´s a pretty little garden hidden in there….

It´s going to be hard work, it´s going to be stressful but it´s going to be fun and a wonderful experience.  While we do this we´ll have to cook and eat and we´ll be sharing our little adventure with you before we head back to Spain once it´s all done. I do hope you join us for the ride, and please be prepared for dust, rain and laughter along the way.