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Tito’s Beach Bar, Mojacar Playa

1 Nov

Sunday afternoon and we have planned to go down to Mojacar Beach to meet up with some friends at Tito’s one of the beach bars there.  This is the last Sunday opening until the spring and it is packed with regulars and visitors.  Today they have some live music and a belly dancer (gorgeous looking, bet she can’t cook!) for our entertainment.  It is lively and buzzy and everyone is out to enjoy themselves.  The weather is still very mild, and was blustery when we left home, but not here on the beach.  The sea is calm and there are a few fluffy white clouds in the sky – we aren’t wearing jackets yet and some of us are in T shirts still.

Live music by the sea at Tito's

The menu at Tito’s is reliably good with some really delicious dishes on offer.  Fresh mussels and sardines are the order of the day to start together with a huge salad for all of us.  I choose lamb kebabs for my main course, other choices are chicken tempura (massive), mushroom risotto (just with as much gloop as it should have) and Dorada (see bream) grilled until the skin is just slightly blackened and crispy.  I am not driving today (Mick drew the short straw!) and so I glug some fresh, white wine down very happily.  We take a look at the dessert menu, which I have no intention of ordering……. Until I see chocolate brownie with ice cream which I immediately order and share with Mick.  It is divine.  We order coffees and more wine with the entertainment, a couple of really good guitarists and the beautiful belly dancer.

Bring on the belly dancer

It is Halloween and all the kids are out in costume scaring everyone and having fun – the clocks have gone back and so I suddenly realise is getting dark and is now gone 7 o’clock!  We have to go and check on the mutts as we don’t like leaving them for too long by themselves.

What a fantastic last day of summer we have had – and it is November on Monday!

If any of you reading this come next spring, go to Tito’s for a drink at night or a Sunday lunch – you will always have a good time.

Tito’s Beach Bar telephone number: 950 615 030

Pickled red cabbage

31 Oct

As it is Halloween and I am feeling all autumnal and we awoke to a blustery old day, Mick took Kevin and Digby (the mutts) out early for a walk whilst I made coffee to take back to bed with some cook books as we had the extra hour.  I suddenly realised after looking through a couple of my books that if I didn’t get a move on, I would be too late to pickle the red cabbage for Christmas!  I am joking of course, but pickles do need time to absorb the spices so you need to make them at least a month before you want to eat them.  Mick always groans as November approaches because he knows, even though we live in Spain, I will start nagging him to sort out my Christmas playlist on the ipod!  I just can’t help it once the intense heat of the summer is gone I start planning for the festive season (of course we don’t have Guy Fawkes night to break it up!).  Well, I digress, but since it is the right time in the UK to start pickling and preserving, I thought you might like to know how to make some of the stuff I have at Christmas.  Also, if you start early, by the week before Christmas, you can put your feet up and enjoy watching everyone else rush around like lunatics!

You will need:

Pickling Spice (see below)

2 pints vinegar – recipes usually specify Malt, but I think it is quite strong so in my opinion you can use whatever vinegar you have, red or white wine, cider, even sherry.  In this recipe I have used cider vinegar.

Red Cabbage shredded

1 level tablespoon of coriander seeds

If you want to make life very easy, you can just buy the sachets of pickling spice from the shops, but if you like, you can just see what you have in the cupboard (coriander seeds, yellow mustard seeds, dried red chillies (about 5-10), allspice powder, ginger, black peppercorns and bay leaves (1-2).  Just put a tablespoon of the seeds, a teaspoon of the powders and for the chillies, just use what I suggested above depending how spicy you want the cabbage), and the two bay leaves, into a saucepan.

Bring to a simmer very slowly (about 10 mins) and then remove from the heat and leave to cool and infuse for a few hours.

Strain the vinegar into a bowl reserving the spices, stir in the red cabbage (about half a cabbage makes two medium sized kilner jars) and add the coriander seeds.  I used the beautiful little jar of them that my sister painstakingly bottled for stocking fillers at Christmas time last year from the plants at her allotment, and am so happy to make use of lots of them!  She is so clever and creative and all the things she makes are so much nicer than stuff you buy and look like they have come from Fortnums – she has been on a jam and chutney fest in the last few weeks – can’t wait for mine!

Ok, back to the cabbage.  Spoon it into your kilner jars, or old pickle jars and cover completely in the vinegar – there should be enough but if not just top up with the kind you used.  Then put a few of the chillies from the strained spices in – be warned though if you use too many the cabbage will be really really hot!

Seal and store in a cupboard for at least a month, preferably two.

La Brasa Restaurant and bar, Vera

28 Oct

Last night, having got back from London late the day before, I didn’t really have the energy to cook as I had been catching up on a week’s chores and sorting all the rooms out now that the season has quietened down!  Mick said he would take me a local place between Vera and Antas that he had discovered whilst I was in London.  Anything cooked on a brasa usually means wood burning grill and is likely to be very meaty although usually a menu del dia will have something fishy on too.

These kind of places are very Spanish, no frills and frequented by local people.  You can have tapas from the bar or you can order a la carte, in which case they will put a tablecloth on one of the tables for you!   I was really hungry and so ordered from the menu del dia – 3 courses for 14 euros, including a couple of glasses of decent wine and coffee which didn’t seem to appear on the bill and so I guess were included.  I had a massive salad and an entremeses, a plate of salami, chorizo, cheese and ham, followed by the most delicious lamb chops with fried potatoes – not very healthy but just fantastic.  Mick just shared the salad, which came at the beginning for both us, and then had a really decent, well-cooked sirloin steak for about 15 quid!  They are continually putting meat on the embers of the fire in a wire rack so that they just cook through slowly (no burnt meat here!).  The result is just the most delicious, smoky, well-seasoned fare – if you are a carnivore, you could not do better in any top restaurant.  Then I ordered something for pudding which I didn’t understand – Mick said it translated something like “Bacon in heaven” but he may have been teasing me – anyway, it was a kind of bread puddingy thing with whipped cream which we managed to plough through with no problem.  The diet starts today!

The total bill for the two of us was 32 Euros.  Years ago I would have walked out of a place like this because they look like workman’s cafes (in fact usually, hidden in the back is also a much more formal dining room where christening receptions take place!) – now I know better!  Local people don’t put up with bad food or being ripped off.  And being about 7 minutes drive away is just a bonus!

La Brasa telephone number: 950 390 753

 


Terraza Carmona Restaurant and bar, Vera

24 Oct

On Saturday’s we often go to the market at Vera, a large town 10 minutes away.  After the hustle and bustle of shopping and lugging all our goodies back to the car, we pop into Terraza Carmona for a drink and a tapa – it is a hotel but with a fantastic restaurant and bar.  The bar is miles long with lots of tapas to choose from along with a fabulous choice of fresh prawns and all kinds of fish and seafood.  Cheap it ain’t if you want to eat in the restaurant but fabulous it is.  If you are just snacking and having the house wine or beer, it is a bargain though and you can stay for a couple of hours with no problem at all.

Terraza Carmona tapas bar

They also have the famous jamon from acorn fed piggies which as far as I am concerned is one of the most delicious things you can eat in the world.  A plate enough for four of you is around 20 quid so well worth ordering along with some bread and manchego cheese.  It is very very Spanish and over the weekends the bar is always busy – we always do the non Spanish thing and go reasonably early (around 8 o’clock) if we are going in the evening as otherwise it is hard to get a table if there are more than two of you.  It is lively and mostly frequented by well to do Spaniards, along with hoards of children who are always welcome at all hours of the evening.

Terraza Carmona restaurant

The restaurant is very much more sedate and very classy.  The menu is extensive and varied and also very funnily written – you kind of need to see it to know what I mean!  The kid is absolutely delicious so long as you manage not to picture what it once looked like, as are all the meat dishes.  There are lots of fish choices too – always order a salad as Spanish people obviously think “what is the point of having vegetables, we get those at the market”.  And so you may well get a tablespoon of frozen veg on your plate, along with good potatoes or chips though.  It is something I will never get used to but they seem unwilling to change in this region.   (This isn’t true in most cities in Spain).

Carmona is an absolute must for any visitor – just go for drinks and tapas if you are on a budget or treat yourself to a big fat Sunday lunch – you are guaranteed to enjoy either.

Terraza Carmona telephone number: 950 390 760

El Mar La Mar Restaurant and bar, Villaricos

23 Oct

El Mar La Mar The sea, the sea – what an evocative name.  It is a restaurant and one of our favourites and is indeed on the sea at a small fishing village near us.  We go there often, sometimes just the two of us (it’s very romantic!) but more often with friends (it is good fun!).  The owner and chef used to be a big cheese in the kitchen at Desert Springs golf club, but has owned his own restaurant for some years now.  It does very well, thanks to the delicious food, the great front of house staff, the location, and so important in this economic climate, the value for money.

El Mar la Mar dining room

 

Very cleverly, Richard (Shepherd) introduced a “Friends of Mar de Mar” menu a couple of autumns ago when the hoards of holiday makers were no longer around and so this was very much aimed at us locals, both Spanish and English.  If you order before 8 pm you are treated to a two course dinner with wine for 30 euros per couple – brilliant.  Even if you don’t eat from this menu, prices are good and the menu choices go on forever.  It is very much an international menu, with some Spanish specialities too, and always interesting and tempting.

We have never had a bad experience here and there is something for every taste, even the most fussy child.  The surroundings and atmosphere are really charming too and I never get fed up of going there.  And no, they’re not paying me.

El Mar La Mar telephone number: 950 467 030

Armenian Style Stuffed Tomatoes

18 Oct

As you all know I just love cooking, but am probably guilty of doing what lots of us  do and that is stick with the same recipes because of lack of time and because I know I don’t often have time to leaf through my books for hours when there always seems to be so much else to do here. So I love it when I am given a recipe from another lover of food as I know I don’t have to test it!

 

Mick came back from a London trip, having had dinner at one of his clients (and now very dear friends), James and Vera Harland.  Vera is from Armenia and is the most fantastic cook (actually so is James).  Anyway, as usual when either Mick or both of us go around to their house for dinner, Vera had produced a feast, usually consisting of about a million different courses and one of the dishes was stuffed tomatoes, Armenian style.   Mick came home raving about them, so I asked Vera for the recipe.  Here they are for you – they make a lovely, tasty dish for lunch or supper and although they need a while in the oven, they can just be left cooking away happily while you go and do something else.  Also, if there are any vegetarians in your party, you can still serve tomatoes, but leave out the meat and put aubergines, pine nuts and raisins instead.  In fact this recipe can be adapted to your taste, put a bit of chilli in there if you like

 

For four people for part of a main dish, you will need

 

500 gms beef mince

Half a cup of Arborio rice

8 medium to large beef tomatoes

Olive oil

6 large potatoes peeled and cut into chunks

Dried Mint

3 or 4 large cloves of garlic

Lots of salt and pepper

 

Cut the tops off the tomatoes and scoop out the flesh and put to one side.

Turn the tomatoes upside down to drain as much liquid from them and retain the tops

Wash the rice and place in a bowl with the mince and mix in.

Chop up the tomato flesh in to small pieces.  Add to the mince mixture and add a good glug of olive olive and mix up.  Season with quite a lot of salt and pepper – it does need to be well seasoned.

Fill the tomatoes with the mixture but don’t over fill – pop the tops back on and then keep the liquid from this mixture.

Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a roasting tray and put in the tomatoes and peeled potatoes between them.

Sieve the reserved liquid over the dish pushing as much through as possible with a spoon

Peel and chop the garlic (use as much as you like!) and dot it all over the dish

Throw loads of dried mint over and cover with foil

Put in a moderate oven (gas mark 3/325F or 170C) for 3 hours – it will stay a bit longer if you wish

After 2 hours or so have a taste and re season with salt and pepper – remove foil for the last half an hour before serving on hot plates with lovely crusty bread.

 

 


Garrucha

15 Oct

Whilst we love the buzz of the summer season here, we kind of always forget how lovely the autumn and spring are here until they arrive! – there is still a lot of warmth in the sun during the day, but the mornings and nights are cooler and more comfortable than high season and of course, everywhere is that bit quieter!

 

Downtown Garrucha

 

Garrucha is a lovely seaside town near us – a lot less busy than Mojacar, the neighbouring resort, and much more local somehow.   The main fish market is here and at sunset you can watch the auctions take place – very confusing but good fun to watch – and, yes, Garrucha is known for its fish restaurants among other things!  The other morning while Mick’s mum was still here, they went off for a bit of precious time together and Mick took Sadie for breakfast in Garrucha.  She loves the sea and also Garrucha, so it was a good choice.

 

The Garrucha Hot Air Club

 

It has a long, long promenade adjacent to the beach and up on the road is just restaurant upon restaurant.   They found a new cafe though on the beach and loved it.  They had coffee and croissant overlooking the sand and sea – what more could you want.  At nighttimes during the season, the restaurants are alive with holidaymakers, both from the UK and the rest of Spain, offering the freshest of fish and seafood at really reasonable prices.  Apart from the Garrucha prawn – visitors beware – they are 100 euros a kilo – I guess a bit like ordering lobster in London!

 

The famous Garrucha prawn

 

There is also a lovely little marina here too and one of our favourite places overlooks it – Rincon del Puerto – the corner of the port – you can have coffee, lunch, drinks all afternoon or dinner here and is the loveliest of spots with great food.  Now Mick are on our own again it is one place that I will be going for someone else to serve me breakfast!

Agua Amarga, Cabo de Gato

14 Oct

It is Tuesday and Mick has taken the day off, along with every single person in Spain!  It is Christopher Columbus day here (and in the States too I think!).  It is a holiday for the armed forces and the police (a great day to commit a crime!) and a national holiday.  We decide to go for lunch at our favourite beach, Agua Amarga, or bitter waters, about 40 minutes away.  You can take a fantastic scenic route along the coast past Mojacar and then go up the scary, but beautiful, mountain road.  It takes longer though and is no good for people who don’t like heights and narrow hairpin bends!!

 

Agua Amarga beach

 

Anyhow, we choose the motorway route for speed and comfort as we have Mick’s mum, Sadie with us – it is still a wonderful drive once you are off the motorway, around 35 kms from the house.  Then you have an awesome drive through the Cabo de Gato (Cape of Cats) – a kind of Spanish moors if you like.  It is very remote and isolated but quite stunning and the road just goes straight through the middle of it.

 

Costa Amarga restaurant

 

After about 15 minutes you arrive at the town of Agua Amarga, a little place which used to be a fishing village, but now I think is a popular place for holiday homes, although you do of course still get some little fishing boats here.  It is simply an exquisite place, with a couple of rather lovely little hotels and 4 or 5 restaurants on the beach.  A few are still open for lunch well into November so we pick our favourite one, right on the beach and overlooking nothing but a turquoise sea and rugged landscape either side and some beautiful villas.  We tuck into red mullet, chips and salad with a glass of vino and a coffee – the menu is vast and full of delicious things, but we have friends coming for dinner so don’t go too mad.  Agua Amarga is one of the chicest beaches around us and at this time of year virtually empty apart from a few families out for the day or who have just come out for a long lunch as it is a holiday.  Even in season it is too off the beaten track for the coach party crowd and isn’t really on the tourist map but mainly frequented by Spanish people or English, Dutch and German people in the know.  It was featured in the film Sexy Beast, and visitors will recognise the villa on the left hand side on the hill as you drive into town.

 

Lunchtime view

 

Reluctantly we get ready to leave wishing we had brought our towels to spend the afternoon lazing on the beach on one of the last days of summer…..but we will be back for lunch again before winter sets in.

Vera market, Vera

13 Oct

Saturday morning and we are off to Vera to wander around the market – normally I have done most of my supermarket shopping on Friday, so this is purely for pleasure and to buy lovely fresh fruit and vegetables and to treat myself to some flowers.  Although there are markets in every town on every day of the week, Vera is my favourite.

Fresh produce at Vera market

It sprawls out from the Plaza Major (town square) in every direction, down all the main streets and the little alleys off them.  It is colourful and noisy and full of crazy Spanish people selling everything from jelly beans to whole legs of jamon, underwear to sunglasses and everything in between.  You have to watch it though, they have one price for locals and another for tourists (a difference of about 30%) which obviously really annoys us and if they try it on me, I chuck it back at them shouting “no estoy una turista, vivo aqui!” and stomp off!  We mooch about looking for the best seasonal fruit or vegetables and any bargains which catch our eye.  Then we always have a coffee in our favourite cafe, outside and right in the hubbub of everything. It is never raining at the market as if it is the stall holders simply don’t come and neither do we!

Mmmmm...chicken and chips

Then sometimes we go and have a glass of something in Carmona Terraza, a fantastic bar and restaurant in the town’s hotel – it is actually really famous in the whole region and serves the best acorn fed jamon (known as Pata Negra or Jabugo).  The market generally finishes at lunchtime but we like to go earlyish so we have the rest of our Saturday.  Everyone who comes to the Cortijo goes to Vera market and usually come back with lots of good little purchases to take home with them.  There really is something about a local market when you are on holiday – it is something that just has to be done!

 

Desert Springs Golf Resort, Cuevas del Almanzora

9 Oct

Sometimes during the week, when we don’t want to go out for the whole evening but we feel like a pre dinner drink somewhere, we pop up to Desert Springs. It is only 10 minutes away and has two options to have a drink or dinner.

 

El Torrente 'Clubhouse' Restaurant

 

There is the clubhouse – it is a lovely colonial style building with a vast terrace running around it so perfect for a late summer evening drink.  We met a couple of our friends there the other night who have a house on the course and as it doesn’t get dark until at least 8.30 pm and it was a wonderfully warm evening, we met on the terrace.   It is a great place to relax for an hour or two with friends and has a good restaurant too where we sometimes go for Sunday lunch.

 

The view from the 19th hole

 

More often. though, we go to the other bar/restaurant, the Crocodile Club.  It is a fabulous building which looks like it could be on an African plain – it has a huge thatched roof and rustic furniture with a terrific view over the deserty landscape, to the sea.  It is lovely to go and meet friends for drinks or dinner – kids are very welcome and they can just run around as there is lots of space and the staff don’t seem to mind.  There is a menu for every taste – from burgers and ribs to wonderful fresh fish, salads and pizzas.  The service is always good and it is just so convenient for us if I don’t feel like cooking.  We go there all year round and there are cosy open fires for the chilly nights from December.  Oh, yes, it also has a beautiful golf course for the golfers among you – anyone can play so long as you have a handicap – if you play with a member you pay a reduced rate (we usually know someone who can sign you in).  There is also a swimming pool and tennis courts for non-residents – that should keep everyone happy!

El Torrente Restaurant telephone number: 950 548 403

The Crocodile Club Restaurant telephone number: 950 548 404