Cod wrapped in Serrano ham, with chilli and lime

6 Jun

I am currently trying to shed a few pounds – an easy way to help is to eat more fish – I know we have fish counters that groan under the weight of a vast selection of fish – I buy whatever looks good generally.  Last week I had friends staying, always a bit tough on the diet, but thought if I included fish on the menu a couple of evenings they would enjoy it and it would be healthy for all of us.  Some people are a bit nervous of cooking fish, simply because they might not really know what to do with it.  This is the most simple dish, takes minutes to prepare and about 20 minutes to oven bake and is quite stunning.

Cod with ham, chilli and lime

If you are in the UK, just go to your local fishmonger or fish counter in the supermarket and take a look at what they have – hake would do just as well for this if there is no cod.  Ask the butcher for fillets of either, they need to be nice and chunky.

 

Pre-heat your oven to 180c, 350f, gas mark 4

 

Lightly oil a metal baking tray (this helps the fish to cook through properly).

 

 

Take your Serrano ham and lay it on a board.  Put the fish on top and then sprinkle on some chopped chilli (fresh or dried is fine, fresh looks prettier), a squeeze of lime juice and some course sea salt and ground pepper.  Then wrap up the fish like a little parcel.  You can put an extra piece of ham on top if it doesn’t quite meet in the middle.  Then put onto the baking tray, put in the centre of the oven and cook for 15-20 minutes depending on the size of the fish.  I serve this with paprika potato wedges (sprayed with oil and baked in the oven 20 minutes before the fish, then just leave them on a shelf above the fish and continue cooking), and minted pea and crème fresh puree.

 

 

Treasure Island beach walk

21 May

Last weekend we wanted to do a morning walk before the weather really gets too hot to even think about walking – so our friends Mike and Gill, who are very keen walkers – told us about one particular route they had done which gave you two options.  The first one is a much more challenging walk over quite big hills above the beaches beyond Mojacar; the second is a coastal walk, but along a decent, flat track for the less ambitious. Both start from the tower at Macenas beach as you head for Carboneras.

Meeting point at Macenas tower

We didn’t have to start too early, although the forecast was for the high eighties on the Saturday that we went.  But anyhow, we agreed to meet at an acceptable 10.30 and promised Gill that we would be on time as we always seem to be 10 or 15 minutes late when going to theirs for lunch!  So, we set off extra early, and they still beat us to it.

Signposted all of the way

We were hoping to be 6 or 8 but everyone else cried off for various reasons, so with it just being the four of us, Mike gave us the option to either do the more difficult, over the hills walk (I hasten to add there was a promise of a beautiful beach and tapas lunch in the chiringuito at the end of the two hours that it would take to get there!) or to do the easier coastal walk to the same point, but which would only take an hour or so.  I thought as it wasn’t too hot, that even I would brave the hills.

The sea view

Shelters on top of the hill

This is where someone having done the route already pays off, as Gill kind of kept me up to date with what to expect; it was tricky here, steep there, over the worst bit – that kind of thing!  Not being much of a walker myself, it all helps to keep you going.  There were several gorgeous natural stops on the way where the council have put up seating areas and little cabins to get a bit of shade while you catch your breath and have a glug of water (which obviously is essential to take with you).

Keep going!

The way down.

It was as challenging a walk as I would like –  a few quite hairy bits going down some steep slopes with nothing to hold on to,  but nothing that phased our 70 something companions!  They are quite amazing and remained undaunted, but seriously, if you are of a certain age and not used to walking, then take the coastal route which is just lovely too.

The beach before Treasure Island beach

2 hours later we arrived at Treasure Island beach (yes really they shot the Orson Wells version here in 1972).  It is just lovely, unspoilt and with just one chiringuito, Manaca,  to have drinks, tapas or lunch.  You could quite happily spend the whole afternoon here – and the good thing is that it can be reached by car too, so you could pack everything up and come for the whole day, away from the more popular beaches in Mojacar.  You need brollies and something to lie on though as it really is a natural beach with no other facilities apart from the beach bar.

Treasure Island beach

Chiringuito Manaca

He was a bit thinner then

We arrived for lunch and of course a much needed drink, tinto verano in my case (summer wine a bit like sangria) – just lovely.  Then the owner came out with the menus and a chameleon – (see the picture!) who live naturally here in the trees.  He was very friendly and unphased by being handled by us (the chameleon, not the owner).

Karma, karma, karma, karma, karma etc.

The walk back to Chiringuito Macenas is a about 40 minutes long and passes past the old lookout point. Very dramatic scenery here.

 

The walk back

The old lookout point

Walkers delight – Chiringuito Macenas

So maybe from now on, if you do want to try this walk, you would need to start by 9 in the morning at this time of year, a little earlier as we go through to July, or even go when the sun is setting and have a swim and a sun-downer atTreasure Island beach.

Life doesn’t get much better than that.

 

 

 

 

 

Courgette Flower Tempura

14 May

Ok, this is one of those things which only cooks or people with allotments would ever get excited about – most people would not ever give them a second thought, know about them or if they do, care.

 

I first had these stuffed with something fantastic like goose liver parfait (sorry) at the Moulin de Mougins in the South of France around 30 years ago (yikes) and because they just looked so beautiful I have never forgotten them.  Anyhow, the difficult thing with these is that you never see courgettes with the flowers left on in shops because they do wither very quickly.  You need to pick them, carry them home carefully and use them that day.

Courgette Flower Tempura

On Friday, I went to my friend Nevenka’s farm shop in Vera as I often do on Friday mornings.   Opening times are11 am until 2 pm.  It is well worth a visit for gorgeous citrus fruit, particularly limes as she has 400 lime trees!  But also, lovely preserves, chutneys and other condiments. She always has some lovely fresh vegetables too, potatoes, beans and whatever is in season and also loads of gorgeous fresh herbs – all of her vegetables are organic – she often has things which you cannot buy here – last week I had a bag of mange tout – absolutely delicious – and on Friday she had the most beautiful baby courgette with the flowers on.  I had quite a lot to do on Friday as everyone was coming around for the opening of the Friday night outdoor cinema and I was preparing a little supper.  But as said, these beautiful pale flowers come along once in a blue moon and so I took four and thought that I would make a tiny starter for lunch.  I really would have liked them stuffed with crab and crème fraiche and chives, but I thought, get real – just look in the fridge and see what is there.  So when I got home, I pulled out some cream cheese and mixed in some chilli sauce put teaspoons of the mixture into the flowers.  Then I made up some tempura batter – plain flour, a tablespoon of cornflour, a little sea salt and some sparkling water.

Then all you do is drop the stuffed flowers in the batter with a slotted spoon and deep fry in vegetable oil until they turn the palest golden colour.  Because the oil is so hot, everything stays in tact, nothing oozes out and they just look stunning. They need to be drained on kitchen paper and eaten immediately with a little chilli sauce.

 

Mick said they were sensational so I will be popping back to Nevenka’s this week in the hope that there will be a few more for me to steal!

 

Churros

4 May

I think one of the things I like most about living in Spain is the way that certain types of food is just, well, so Spanish!   Churros is one of them.  And the way that you find it – i.e. literally on the streets, out of vans, at fiestas and in cafes.  I can’t think of an English equivalent that is so universally found.  I have mentioned churros before, but thought that some of you might like to have a go at making them and so have included a recipe.  This is something which you will only ever do if a) you love cooking b) you have an extractor fan and c) when it is a miserable day outside and you have nothing better to do!  But let me explain a bit more about the famous Churros.

A churro, sometimes referred to as a Spanish doughnut is a fried delicacy

There are two types of churros in Spain, one which is thin (and sometimes knotted) and the other which is long and thick (porra). They are both normally eaten for breakfast dipped in hot chocolate

Churros are typically fried until they become crunchy, and may be sprinkled with sugar. The surface of a churro is ridged due to having been piped from a churrera, a syringe with a star-shaped nozzle.

Churros are often sold by street vendors, who will often fry them freshly on the street stand and sell them hot.  You get a lovely brown paper bag full for a euro! In Spain churros are available in cafes for breakfast although they may be eaten throughout the day as a snack. Specialized churrerías can be found in the form of a shop or a trailer during the holiday period. Big Spanish cities have churrerías throughout their streets but we usually just get them from a van either at Vera market on a Saturday or Villaricos market on a Sunday. I have to admit that I have only eaten them 3 or 4 times in 8 years because they are so delicious, but so bad for you and I am scared of it becoming a regular thing!

The dough is a mixture of flour, water and salt.

In south Spain the word churro usually refers to the thicker variant, called porra elsewhere. The thicker variant is usually fried in the shape of a continuous spiral and cut into portions afterwards. The center of the spiral is thicker and softer, and for many a delicacy in itself.

It may seem obvious, but DO TAKE CARE if you decide to be adventurous and try out the recipe below.  This is not a recipe for kids as it involves boiling hot oil!  If the oil is too hot it will really splash so imagine you are making chips – the oil doesn’t need to be any hotter than that!

INGREDIENTS

For the churros:

90g caster sugar

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

125g plain flour

125g self-raising flour

a good pinch of sea salt

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 litre sunflower oil for frying

For the chocolate sauce:

200g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), roughly chopped

50g milk chocolate, roughly chopped

2 tablespoons golden syrup

300ml double cream

METHOD

Serves: makes 16 long sticks

Mix the sugar and cinnamon together and set aside.

Make the chocolate sauce. Put all the chocolate in a heavy bottomed saucepan with the golden syrup and cream and heat over a low heat, stirring continuously, to melt the chocolate, being careful not to let it burn.

Sift the flours with a good pinch of salt into a metal or heatproof bowl and make a well in the centre.

In a separate bowl, mix the olive oil and 450ml boiling water together, and pour into the well, beating it well with a fork to get rid of any lumps. The dough should be slightly soft and sticky to touch. Let it rest for 10 minutes.

Fill a large, heavy bottomed saucepan (or Wok) with the sunflower oil – it should be about one-third full. Heat the oil to 170C or until a small piece of bread browns in less than 30 seconds.

Add the dough to a piping bag with a star-shaped nozzle and squeeze out churros directly into the hot oil, cutting them with a pair of scissors into the length you want. Be careful not to cook more than three at any one time, or they will all stick together. Fry for about 3 to 4 minutes until crispy and golden. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar. Reheat the chocolate sauce and pour into little cups for dipping with the churros.

If you don’t have the energy to make these, search out a Spanish restaurant on google!

There are plenty in London I know.  El Cantara in Soho is a good start!

Walking in Almeria

16 Apr

We are very lucky living where we do – we have mountains, countryside and beach all within 20 minutes of each other.  There are lots of walking groups too which definitely have advantages.  For a start there are lots of “off the beaten track” walks, which not only would you have difficulty finding, but can be dangerous too if you don’t know the area.  Mick and I did such a walk the other week with our friends Heidi and John.  We decided to take Digby, our Jack Russell, with us as he is very good on a lead – Kevin the Pointer unfortunately is a bit more tricky!

So we met up early on a beautiful Sunday morning in the direction of Sorbas.  There were at least 30 or us, all of different nationalities.  We pulled off the road and parked all the cars and waited for our guide.  He is a local guy, very friendly and knowledgeable and warned us all to stay together on the walk; apparently it is an area with lots of massive deep holes which you can’t really see!  This was borne out when we saw a load of pot-holers!  With this in mind, Digby was kept firmly on his lead.

Anyhow, we kept to the track and enjoyed the scenery – lovely spring flowers in the meadows and mountains in the background. We walked for around 5 kms – unheard of for me!  But made all the more enjoyable by all the chatting as we went along.  We ended up in a tiny little hamlet of deserted houses and sat under the trees and had a little picnic of hamburgers, juice and fruit provided by our guide – all for the princely sum of 3 euros.

If you like walking and being in nature, you really could do worse than to join a walking group – it is fun, safe and you will get to see places that you didn’t know existed – and good for you too!

 

 

Villaricos market

13 Mar

There is a market within 10 km of us every day, even Sunday.  Actually the Sunday market at Villaricos has to be my favourite.  There are hardly any shops open on Sundays, just the odd little store (although why anyone wants to go food shopping on a Sunday beats me!) and so the fruit and vegetables sold at the market are quite handy if you have forgotten something.  Anyhow, it is just a lovely thing to do on a sunny Sunday morning – the market overlooks the sparkling blue sea beyond the little marina and it is just gorgeous.

It is huge market which stretches along the narrow street and sells mainly fruit, vegetables, cheese, charcuterie, flowers, herbs and spices, lots of clothing, hardware, jewellery, pottery and lots of other knick knacks.

There is also a fantastic Chicken van – dozens of delicious grilled chicken sold hot to take home for lunch if you can’t be bothered to cook.

My friend Denise has her bookstall here, which she runs with her husband, Tony and they sell great second hand English books for a couple of euros and actually around here, English books are hard to find.  We tend to borrow them from each other, so this is a great addition for us.

Next door to Denise is the Churros van – on Sunday I had my third only taste of Churros since coming to Spain almost 8 years ago!  It is so delicious that I am frightened to have it any more often – for those of you that do not know what it is, it is like freshly made doughnuts, but cooked in long swirls and then cut into “sticks”, covered in sugar which you dip in hot chocolate – now you know why I am frightened to eat it!  It is highly addictive and just about the most delicious thing you can eat!

The market runs in and out of various restaurants and tapas bars, where we always stop for a coffee or a beer – this Sunday was scorching and so the market and the cafes were heaving with everyone enjoying being out in the sea air, and the hussle and bustle of it all.

If you are staying here, I thoroughly recommend you go down to Villaricos on a Sunday morning and soak up the atmosphere, before going off for lunch or an afternoon at the beach.  You are bound to find something you like to take home.

Las Alpujarras

9 Mar

Last weekend was Mick’s birthday – not giving anything away, but it was a biggie!

So I decided to book a weekend away for us with some friends.  Most of us had not been there despite being here for such a long time, but it has been on our list for ages, only just over 2 hours away and is an area of magnificent beauty.

We set off in the morning on Friday, and then stopped for coffee in a lovely little village en route – there are hundreds of places along the way to drop in for a drink or tapas or lunch.  John and Heidi had already been to the town where had a second stop for lunch, and ate in the same restaurant. There was a fantastic menu del dia for 10 euros, bread and olives, huge salad with the most amazing tomatoes like you have never tasted, meat or fish and usually a stew of the day is on offer, plus dessert and coffee.  This is common all over Spain– instead of having a ghastly cheap hamburger or fried chicken for lunch, virtually every bar and restaurant has its own menudeldia where almost everyone can afford to eat – they range in quality, but generally the standard is high.  We hadn’t really planned a big lunch as we were booked into our casa rural (country hotel) for a 3 course dinner, but we couldn’t resist and tucked in.  We left there at 4 pm– oops!

We then made our way to our destination in the Alpujarras, a village called Mereina, took several wrong turnings and ended up going the long way around, along the top of the mountains, with the most incredible views (the next day, we discovered that had we not gone that way, we would have been recommended to because of the astonishing scenery.  So finally we arrived in the tiniest village and found our little hotel, Las Chimeneas (the chimneys).  It was very lovely, and actually we had our own “house” between the six of us, with a living room and wood burning stove in two rooms.

The village itself was a little disappointing, as at this time of year you don’t really want to be driving at night in the dark around hairpinbends and so there was nowhere really to have a drink before dinner.  Luckily we had bought wine with us to have in our living room, before walking across the tiny square to the Las Chimeneas restaurant for dinner.   I should say that in the Spring and Summer months this would be lovely to stay, particularly if you are walkers or birdwatchers and really want some peace and quiet, but at this time of year, say from November to end of March I would choose to stay somewhere a bit larger with more life.  The plus points of staying here were the magnificent views from the house, (on a clear day you can see Med and the Atlas mountains beyond), the clear mountain air, and the total peace and quiet.

The next day we planned our trip around being out all day, finding somewhere for a big lunch, and buying something delicious for our supper.  We headed off after breakfast to a largish town called Ugijar.

It was situated at the bottom of the mountains, and so instead of looking out on a view, you looked up to the green alpine hills and snow capped mountains – just gorgeous.  The town was bustling, being Saturday morning and actually reminded me more of France than Spain.  There was a tiny market with lovely fresh fish, fruit and vegetables and a couple of good little supermarkets and butchers (where we bought Jamon from Trevelez village even higher up from where we were staying.  We bought local fruity olive oil from the Bodega (wine merchants) – 5 litres for 12 Euros (about £10).

We had a coffee break on a lovely terrace where we planned our route to get to Alqueria de Morayma near Cadiar for lunch.  John and Heidi had already been here and so we knew it would be good.  It was.  It was a little rural complex, all on its own, with lots of little apartments surrounding the restaurant and bar.  It was the most beautiful day and so we were lucky enough to have lunch outside.  It was just a lovely experience and a place I would highly recommend both to stay and/or eat.  Again though, it is a drive to any village or town and so once you are there at night, you would probably stay put.  I could have easily stayed a couple of days.

Then it was back home – the mountain air had made us all a bit sleepy and so some of us had a siesta and later Mick, John and Graeme got our dinner all laid up for us, Jamon, bread, salad, cheese and wine of course!  Bliss for me.

We left the next morning after breakfast – we could have taken a long drive home, with lunch to break up the journey, but we had the mutts to collect in the late afternoon and settle in at home again before the working week. We drove over the top of the mountains and saw the snow that makes Sierra Nevada such a popular place to ski and the forbidding castle at Calahorra.

Las Alpujarras is really the most beautiful area – it is made up of hundreds of villages and fewer larger towns and really is worth a visit if you like tranquility, mountains, pine trees and endless views.  We really felt like we had had a proper break, even though it was only a couple of days.  We will definitely go back again.

La Montana Restaurant and Bar, Bedar

1 Mar

A few weeks ago, on a chilly and (unusually) rainy night here, our lovely friends John and Heidi invited us out for dinner to a restaurant which they had been to on a number of occasions.  We had heard of it, but had not managed to go there yet!  It is way up in the hills, beyond the lovely village of Bedar, around half and hour’s drive from here in El Campico (which on our roads is nothing!).  It was Friday night and so we were all in good spirits and looking forward to the start of the weekend.  We still get “that Friday feeling” here, as Mick works office hours all year round and I kind of have a 9-5 work “around the house and garden” ethic when I am not looking after guests.

Off we went on our little journey, and we noted how wonderful the drive would be once the evenings were light, later on this month.  We arrived at La Montana, situated in a little clearing, at the top of the hill, next to a big barn.  It immediately looked cosy and inviting, and once inside I knew that it was my cup of tea.  There is a gorgeous little bar, which the local residents have clearly embraced, as there is not much else nearby.  The restaurant consists of two or three intimate and subtly lit rooms, not a thing common in Spain, and a warm open fire with logs smouldering away.  It put’s you in mind of an upmarket country gastro-pub.

We decided to go straight into a main course – often when I visit a recommended restaurant where the food is really good, one is tempted to tuck in a bit too much to the starters which always takes the edge off ones appetite. I was very glad that I stuck to a couple of olives and an aperitif!

 

I had the roast belly of pork with red cabbage which was sensational. The others had lamb which was equally fantastic but there is something for everyone on the menu.  It is not cheap, nor over the top expensive and actually because the food is so good, it is very good value for money.

We all had dessert – also absolutely delicious (though because I didn’t write them down, I have forgotten exactly what we had, only that they didn’t disappoint!

La Montana is open for lunch too, as well as tapas and they have live music outside during the summer – phone to check out when.

It is somewhere that we will be going back to very soon – maybe when the clocks go forward!

La Montana, Bedar telephone number: 670 589 788

 

Rhubarb jelly

20 Feb

The other day I was making an apple and pear crumble and I thought I would add some tinned rhubarb too to make it a bit more interesting.  Rhubarb is a bit precious here – even tinned!  There isn’t a word in Spanish for it and they simply don’t know what it is!  Quite often when friends ask me if there is anything they can bring fromEngland, I say “Fresh rhubarb please” if it is in season.  They think I am bonkers of course.

 

Anyhow, after I had added the fruit I thought I would use the juice (not syrup) to make jelly – it is the most divine and subtle flavour and if you add some chopped up stem ginger to the liquid it makes quite a sophisticated dessert and needs nothing else.  If you are not using all the fruit for something else, then you could add some rhubarb to the jelly and make a compote to go with it.  It is the simplest of home made desserts and fantastic after something like a casserole or pie which can be on the heavy side.

 

Use a couple of tins to yield half a pint of juice and put in a small pan to warm.

 

Method

 

Soak two leaves of gelatine in a little cold water for 5 minutes, then drain and squeeze the gelatine and put in with the juice. Stir until completely dissolved and then take off the heat.  Chop a piece of stem ginger into tiny chunks and add to the liquid.  I don’t think it needs any more sweetening, but you can make your own mind up and if you like add a teaspoon of soft brown sugar while the liquid is still warm.  Then add to a couple of individual glasses and refrigerate for a few hours or make the day before you need it if you are planning a dinner party.  I must say, that because it is a completely natural jelly, I did add the tiniest bit of pink colouring to mine to make it prettier, but this is not needed!

 

Lorca

14 Feb

Lorca is a lovely town around 40 minutes drive from us.  It is, like many Spanish towns, great for a mooch around.  There is always something to look at, decent shopping and lots of bars and cafes tucked into its little streets in the old town.  It is a municipality and town, within the region of Murcia and its population has increased by almost 20% in the last decade (almost 93,000 people live there).

The Lorca castle, which overlooks the city ofLorcafrom a strategic location, and is distinctly visible from a distance, was built by the Moorish inhabitants during the 13th century. Its history dates back to the Islamic period when it was built between 8th and 12th centuries; some remnants of which are still seen in the form of water systems in the older part of the castle.  Up until the earthquake last year, the castle was used as a venue for concerts – Bob Dylan played here some years ago. It will be a while I think before it is safe to use it again.

In ancient times Lorca was the frontier town between Christian and Muslim Spain. Even earlier to that during the Roman period it was ancient Ilura or Heliocroca of the Romans.

The Plaza de España (Spanish Square) is one of the most emblematic monuments of the city, located in the heart of Lorca’s historical centre. Containing the Collegiate San Patricio and the Chambers of the Collegiate members, the Casa del Corregidor and Posito, the granary of 16th century, amongst others. The Plaza has been declared a cultural monument.

The town was seriously damaged by a magnitude 5.1 earthquake on11 May 2011, killing at least nine people – we even felt the after effects here!   You notice the damage to most of the buildings the moment you drive into town.  However, it is still worth a visit either for a morning wander, a bit of shopping or just going to one or two tapas bars and watching the world go by.

For more information visit here