Posts Tagged With: special occasion

Beach Birthday Photographs

Biker Jane

It was my birthday recently so we thought we’d share some pics:

Before a day out on the Blaenau Ffestiniog Railway (last years present from Jane)

My Dad outside the Beach House

Jane and a bottle of bubbly – Whistling Sands Beach, Llyn Peninsula

My birthday bash, with Jane and my Mum – Whistling Sands, Llyn Peninsula

Lift off! Being launched from the sea (we saw seals here later!)

Jane and I looking concerned about the lack of champagne

Jane has a sunset splodge

 

 

 

Categories: 'The Good Life', photography, Special Occasion, Wales | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Coconut & Sweet Potato Polenta with Asian Vegetables

P1140694

Mwynhewch eich bwyd! (Bon appetit in Welsh)

The East meets Wales with a stopover in Rome.

This is a rich polenta dish that adds a full-on Eastern flavour to this very European dish.
We served this dish with pan-fried Asian vegetables, flavoured with sweet chilli. We kept the veg organic and as local as possible, so we made some substitutions here. Instead of water chestnut, we used chunks of jerusalem artichoke, instead of pak choi, we used swiss chard, instead of spring onion, we used leek.  You can use any mixture of veg here, preferably a good mix of colours and textures.

This is luxurious modern dish that takes little time to prepare and was inspired by chef Paul Gayler, who’s recipes I find extaordinary.

This makes enough for two hungry people with leftovers.

The Bits

Polenta

1 large sweet potato (peeled and chopped)

1 1/2 pint of veg. stock

1 1/2 cups of coconut milk

4 cups of polenta

salt and pepper

 

Veg

3 cloves of sliced garlic

1 leek sliced

2cm cube of ginger sliced

1 teas chilli flakes or fresh sliced chilli

1 small head of broccoli chopped

4 jerusalem artichoke chopped into chunks

1 large carrot

1 large handful of chopped swiss chard

splash of veg stock

4 tbls sweet chilli sauce (we use Linghams brand)

splash of veg oil

 

Do It

Polenta – Simmer veg stock in pan, cook sweet potato in stock until tender, around 15 minutes.  Blend with stock to a smooth paste in a blender.  Put mix back into a pan, add coconut milk, bring to a gentle simmer and add polenta gradually whilst stirring.  Texture should be that of a wet mash.  Season.  Cover and leave on a low heat until serving.

Veg. – Move onto veg, all pre-chopped and ready to go (important when cooking in an asian style, which is quickly cooked and immediately served, fresh and crunchy).  Heat the oil in a frying pan or wok, add garlic, ginger and chilli, fry for 30 seconds, add all veg and toss together for a couple of minutes, then add the splash of stock and chilli sauce.

P1140744

The new Beach House herb garden

Serve

In big warmed bowls, polenta poured into the base topped by the veg., spoon on the sauce  Serve and eat asap.

We Love It!

This is a really new take on Polenta for me.  The coconut adds a real luxurious finish to the polenta, which the sweet sauce compliments perfectly.  YUM.

Foodie Fact

Ginger, a pungent root with incredible properties.  Famed throughout the ages for its soothing effect on the intestines.  It can ease intestinal gas and relax the digestive tract.  Ginger is very effective at eliminating the effects of motion sickness and can generally help against nausea.  It contains gingerols that are a powerful anti-inflammatory compounds, aiding ailments like arthritis.  Gingerols also help us to fight off the big ‘C’.  Ginger boosts the immune system, which is why it seems so good on a cold morning with a little hot lemon and honey.  What a root!

Boozy Bit

Light white, medium bodied wine.  I would recommend a nice German White like a Riesling or Gewürztraminer.  Good German whites are not cheap, but well worth it, especially with spiced Eastern dishes.

P1140850

Jane outside the Beach House, the day after the spring blizzard.

Categories: Local food, Recipes, Special Occasion, Vegan, Wales, Welsh produce, Wine and Booze | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

El Limonar Stew – A Taste of the Spanish Sun

The 'El Limonar'

The ‘El Limonar’ is not an everyday stew.  It reflects the culture and produce of a special little corner of Spain, the Costa Calida.

This dish that would suit any occasion this summertime, especially a special time when you are eating outside in the sunshine with the people who you love, a time when you are planning to open a few bottles of good wine (it is a Spanish stew after all!) and let the world just pass you by.

‘El Limonar’ is the name of the place my parents have in Spain, its near Cartagena, Murcia, for me it is one of the worlds most beautiful and relaxing places.  The lifestyle in Spain is slow, steeped in history, with much fiesta and siesta.  Relaxing is a way of life and food and drink play a major role in everyday life and traditional celebrations.

When I am in Spain, more than anywhere else in the world, I can happily revert to the wise words below:

‘Sólo un idiota puede ser totalmente feliz.’

‘Only an idiot can be totally happy.’

Mario Vargas Llosa

The Mediterranean sun brings life to the dry red earth.   Murcia is the hottest and driest region in Spain, but the local farmers use a lot of new technology and plenty of old world know-how to make the most of the parched land.  The area is covered with lemon, almond and olive trees, many old and gnarled.  A whole host of incredible local produce blooms with stunning flavours.  This stew combines many of these treats, most notably the sweet and smoky local pimenton (paprika).  We use Coato Paprika, an excellent local co-operative (http://www.coato.com/en/about-coato/).  The figs and almonds reflect the Moorish (North African) influence who were here for hundreds of years.  You can hear the sound of North Africa in every flamenco song.

Being a veggie in Spain is tough, we eat at home most of the time, using the produce from the local markets.  Old men and women gather every Sunday in a car park down at  the port and sell their crops.  We have our favourite olive lady, pepper man, spice mama, knife gypsy, Moroccan mint seller etcetc.  There are an array of characters and smiles.  I love to browse a good market.  It is also very cheap, which makes it that touch more satisfying.

The occasion for the ‘El Limonar’ was a visit from Rob and Linda.  They are super foodies who we met in a local cafe.  These shiny people deserved a treat so I put together this deluxe version of one of my tried and tested simmered chickpea recipes.

The technique is to simmer the chickpeas down until only a little stock remains (chickpea stock is delicious, almost beefy!) then begin to add the ingredients.  I find this retains a lot of flavour and gently cooks everything.  This stew did have some added roast vegetables, but it was most definitely a special occasion.

The best way to recreate this is in a colder country is to buy as much organic produce as possible.  Beautifully ripe tomatoes and a good quality Spanish paprika will give this dish a real taste of the Med!

Local Murcian Pimenton from Coato Cooperative, Totana

This is enough for 4 with plenty for lunch the next day (we are bulk cookers at  the B.H.K).

The Bits

5 cups of fat chickpeas (pre-soaked overnight), 1 bay leaf, good veg stock (enough to cover the chickpeas in the pan by 1 inch, maybe 1 litre), one big red onion (all veg chopped into interesting looking chunks), 1 large sweet red pepper, 1 aubergine, 1 courgette, 5 sweet tomatoes, 1 handful of cherry tomatoes, 6 sundried tomatos, 5 cloves of garlic (finely chopped), 2 tbs Coato paprika, 1 big glass of Spanish red wine (for authenticity), 1 sprig of rosemary, 2 teas of thyme, zest and juice of one large unwaxed lemon, 2 smoked dried peppers (if you can get your hands on them), 1 handful of roasted unsalted almonds (soaked overnight), 1 good handful of chopped dried figs, 1 good handful of pitted green olives (preferably manzanilla), chopped mint, coriander and parsley, s + p, olive oil to start and finish.

Do It

Most of these steps can be done beforehand and kept in the fridge overnight, the flavours will intensify.  Even better, cook everything for a little less time, get the stew together and re-heat it on the day. 

Add your pre-soaked chickpeas and one bay leaf to a pan of good veg stock, it should cover them by 1 inch.  Bring to a gentle boil then simmer until tender, normally 1 hour.   Skim of white froth regularly.  If the stock evaporates too quickly, put a lid on it.  After cooking the chickpeas should be just poking through the stock.

While they are simmering, chargrill in olive oil your large chunks of aubergine (should be well coloured and gooey inside), pepper, onion and courgette in a frying pan or griddle.  Best to do in batches and keep warm in a covered plate.  I chargrill my cherry tomatoes quickly to give them a little colour.

Add the paprika to the chickpeas and stir in well, then the tomatoes, rosemary, garlic, lemon zest and thyme, put the heat up and before it reaches a boil, add the rest of the ingredients except the wine, which you add just before the stew is about to boil.  Season.  Little finesse here, but maximum flavour!

Once the stew has reached a very gentle boil put the heat down to low and leave simmering, covered for one hour letting the flavours infuse nicely.  Check that the sauce has thickened and is not too thin, if so, turn the heat up and cook down.  Do not boil, this kills flavour.

Just before serving, check seasoning, add a glug of olive oil for shine and richness (or a glug of oil from your jar of sun-dried tomatoes as I did), the lemon juice and most of the chopped mint, coriander and parsley, mix gently in.

Serve

I topped it with a splash of olive oil, some of the left over herbs, finely sliced dried fig and a fistful of crushed almonds.

We ate our stew under the stars, over halved roasted butternut squash with brown rice, a spinach salad with a lemon and honey dressing and a cucumber and local spring onion (like wild garlic) yoghurt.  I think Rob and Linda were amazed at how much we eat!  It’s difficult for me to not get carried away with a kitchen full of amazing produce.

Jane having our 'millionare lunch' (which cost 8 euros)

Foodie Fact

Good old Christopher Columbus got his greedy hands on the pepper plant in South America and like everything else he found of value, brought it back to Spain (I’m not a huge fan of the behavior of these old explorer/conquistador types).

Paprika is made by grinding dried peppers, different paprika uses different peppers and can be sweet, smoked or spicy.  Paprika is used extensively in the cooking of Spain and also quite randomly, Hungary.  Good Goulash would be lost without it.  The name ‘Paprika’ actually comes from the Hungarian word for ‘Pepper’.

Paprika has a high sugar content which must be considered when cooking with it.  It burns easily.

By weight, Paprika contains more Vitamin C than lemon juice.

Boozy Bit

I haven’t had the chance to write about wine in a while.  Thank you Spain for giving me the excuse!

This is best with a wine from the south of Spain.  The stew incorporates many of the flavours of this evocative land, therefore the local wines compliment it perfectly.  We went for a young ‘Casa De La Ermita’ Organic Monastrell from Jumilla (a local wine region), with ripe fruits, lovely vanilla scented oak and dark violet colour.  Monastrell is generally a concentrated wine with good structure and this one held its own with this blockbuster stew.

Casa De La Ermita is a wondeful winery and you can buy the wine in the U.K., I think I even saw it in Tescos.  The Crianza is a very stylish example of the quality of wine now produced in Jumilla, formerly a very ‘rustic’ wine growing region.  They also make a great white and an interesting Petit Verdot.

Here’s their site:

http://www.casadelaermita.com/vinos/casadelaermita_tintoecologico.php

'Casa De La Ermita' Crianza, fine wine from Jumilla, Spain.

Categories: 'The Good Life', Dinner, gluten-free, Healthy Eating, Low G.I. (glycemic index), Lunch, Organic, photography, Recipes, Relax, Special Occasion, Travel, Vegan, Wine and Booze | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Bitter Chocolate Ricotta

We had this on Valentines, in tea cups.  It’s rich and velvety.

The pinch of salt really brought out the bitterness of the chocolate.  Jane and I aren’t really into very sweet desserts, so this was near perfection.  It’s not a choc pud for those with a super sweet tooth.  Try something new!

With few ingredients, you can’t skimp on quality here.  Use good chocolate and a nice ricotta.

I used ‘Halen Mon’ salt (http://www.halenmon.com/) with Taitian Vanilla.  They are a local salt company, based on Anglesey, who produce some stunning salts.  We don’t use much, so the little we use is important.

As usual with the B.H.K is easy to get together, with very little washing up!

Use 1/2 tub of ricotta and 2/3 bar of chocolate for two people.

The Bits

1 bar of quality dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa), 1 tub of ricotta cheese or vegan cream cheese, 2 pinches of Halen Mon Vanilla Salt (or good sea salt), dried fruits

Do It

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan with boiled water.  Stir.  Scrap out into a bowl with ricotta cheese, add a couple of pinches of salt, fold in until blended.  The chocolate should be enough to balance the flavour with sweetness, if you add too much salt add a little sugar or honey until its right.

Serve

We topped ours with some dried strawberries and Physalis (see GRAZE article), most dried fruits would be fine or some Amoretti biscuits would go nicely.

We Love It

A quick dessert, minimum fuss and maximum enjoyment!  The Vanilla Salt is a real star here, it adds so much.

Foodie Fact

Chocolate is packed with flavonoids, helping our cells and good monounsaturated fats that can lower cholesterol (if you only eat a few chunks!)

Categories: Desserts, gluten-free, Recipes, Special Occasion, Treats | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

The Pancake Bake

Looks like a mess though tastes rather amazing

Pancake day is coming soon?  This makes a proper meal out of it.

‘The Pancake Bake’ is more a method, than a specific recipe.

You will end up with succulent layered oven baked pancake wonder.  Hopefully drenched in creamy cheese and a rich tomato stew.  Due to the presentation and perceived difficulty of this dish, its bound to impress friends, guests and family.

The ingredients can chop and change depending on whats in your fridge, that’s the beauty of this.  Its learning the basics and filling in the blanks with your lovely creativity.

The main components are cheese, tomatoes and stuff to make pancakes with.  That should be easy enough.  It takes a while to get together, but when you’ve done it once, you’ll be knocking out bakes like a veteran.

Fresh, fresh tomatoes and spinach with fistfuls of quality strong cheese will make this dish sing for you.  Its worth spending the extra pence on your taste buds (but not necessary).  Balance your pocket with the occasion and how much you love the people eating pancakes (including yourself!!!!).

This is a dish perfectly designed to warm, satisfy and comfort after a particularly wintry day.

Makes enough for two hungry mouths (we eat two pancakes eat).  As usual, it can be made vegan or gluten-free with a few twists and is equally delicious (just not that creamy).  If you haven’t tried a gram flour pancake, give them a whirl.  They’re brilliant with an earthy flavour.

The Bits

Tomato Stew – A small glug of oil (I don’t normally use olive oil for cooking, something cheaper but good ie veg or sunflower), 3 fat cloves of garlic (chopped), 5 tomatoes (or one tin of good chopped tomatoes), one large onion, 1 cup of veg stock (or water), herbs (we used fresh basil and thyme), add one veg or more (we used carrot and potato, we needed some ballast!), salt and pepper to taste.

The Spinach Layer – Good glug of oil, 3 fat cloves of garlic (chopped), a large pan of spinach leaves (the more the better, they cook down to not much).

Cheese – The one you like best.  Quantity depends on how much you want to use.  Get a normal sized block and see how you go.  Vegans add a nice tofu here.

Pancakes – Glugs of oil, one cup of wholewheat flour (gluten free, use gram flour), 1 egg (not essential), 1/2 cup of milk (soya if you like), 3/4 cup of filtered water, 2 teas dried thyme (or similar herb), s+p to taste.  A few roasted sunflower seeds can make a real treat of these.

Do It

Get the tomato stew on the go.  In a thick bottom pan on medium heat, add olive oil and thinly sliced onions.  Stir and cook for at least 10 minutes, until softened and sweet, then add garlic, fry for a couple of minutes then add the tomatoes, herbs and s+p.  Simmer for a few minutes then add stock, continue the simmer with the top off until the sauce thickens, then pop a lid on and leave on a low heat to infuse a little.   You could call this a ragout if you like, it’s a basic sauce for many pasta dishes.  Good to get the ragout in the repertoire.

In a large sauce pan (spinach takes up a lot of space initially), medium heat, a glug of oil and flash fry some chopped garlic.  Then pack the pan full of washed spinach leaves, season with s+p (if needed).  Leave for a minute, then stir the leaves down.  It should only take 5 minutes to get them wilted.  The oil should make them nice and shiny.  Set aside.

Chop your cheese into chunks.  We used a strong local cheddar, parmesan, blue cheese, goats cheese, really anything except cheese slices will be good here.  Your favourite is probably best.  Slice it into pieces that would grace a hearty sandwich.

Now for the tricky bit.  The pancakes.  They can take a little practice to get right, so the quantities here give you some breathing space.  Try a couple before going for the ‘presentation’ pancake.

In a large bowl, add all of the dry pancake ingredients with egg and milk.   Mix a little, I use a hand blender for this, you could hand whisk.  Gradually add water as you mix, you are looking for a batter with the texture of double cream.  Set aside for a couple of minutes to rest.

Pre-heat the oven to 200oC (most recipes tell you to pre-heat the oven far to early, it only takes 5 minutes and you’ll save a load of energy this way).

In a medium size casserole dish or similar (preferably ceramic, they look great).  Add a glug of oil and swoosh it around to cover it nicely.

In a small non-stick frying pan, get the pancakes fired up.  In a hot pan (medium heat, but adjust accordingly as you go) a small glug of oil followed by approx 1/4 cup of batter.  It should cover the base of the pan, but not much more.  Tilting the pan and rolling the batter around, until it meets each panside.

Leave for a minute, then with a thin spatula, life the edges away from the sides, make sure it loose.  Cook for a few minutes, the batter on top should be solid, then flip.  You can either go for the flick wrist acrobatic toss, or the gentile flip, using the spatula to support the pancakes progress.  This will take a bit of practice, don’t worry if the first attempt lands somewhere outside of the pan.  A taster!  When you get the knack, prepare 4 decent pancakes (they don’t have to be perfect!) and lay them on a plate covered with paper towels (to drain any surplus oil).  That’s a hell of a method!  But once mastered, is a real sinch.

Now for the layering.  Remember to portion your bits, you are aiming  for four and enough to pour over the finished pancakes.  On a board/ plate, beside your casserole dish, lay a pancake out flat.  Spoon in approx 2 heaped tbs of ragout, in a line across the centre of the pancake, spread across (not too much you have to roll these suckers).  Top with a layer of spinach, then a decent layer of chopped cheese.  Now gather one side of the pancake and flip it over, tuck and press with your fingers, then quickly whip over the other edge of the pancake to a make a fat sausage.  Hold together in with downward pressure from your hand.  Be firm but gentle.  Some sauce may shoot out of the end, enjoy that.  Now place the pancake fold down on the casserole dish.  Repeat and no doubt, get better with your rolling skills.

When four pancakes are laid out in a neat(ish) row, pour over remaining stew. It should get a good covering, sprinkle the left over cheese and spinach, the more the merrier and whack it in the oven for 20 minutes or until all the cheese is golden and melted and the sauce is bubbling nicely.

You can prepare all of this before hand, all the bits will sit nicely in the fridge overnight.  I’d heat the stew a little first though and keep the pancakes in a tight container or well cling’d.  I would always assemble the dish close to mealtime, the pancakes can go soggy.

Serve

With a good crisp salad tossed in a nice citrus dressing.  I’d finish off the bake with a few more leaves of torn fresh herb.

We Love It

You’ll be proud to view this Pancake Bake sitting in the middle of the dinner table,  it’s so unctuous all over and does have a hint of the wow factor.   Because it’s so rich, it’s a good one for carnivores.

Foodie fact

Allegedly the Mayans first cultivated tomatoes.  It’s a member of the nightshade family which includes aubergine, potato and chillies.   Unique to tomatoes, Lycopene helps to protect your cells from harmful free radicals, it also helps to protect the skin from U.V. rays.

Pickled Part

You don’t want something too tannic and overpowering here, I’d go white, something dry and with good acidity, like a Sauvignon Blanc.  Splash out on a decent bottle of French Touraine Sauvignon.  Normally packed full of fresh fruits, a good one should be around 6-8 pounds and have a decent structure to hold its own against the strong flavours in this dish.

You could go for a lighter red style and Chianti historically goes well with the rich tomato and cheese sauces of Italian cuisine.  I just think that the white will cut through the melted cheese and leave your mouth feeling vibrant and ready for more bake.

Categories: Dinner, Lunch, Recipes, Special Occasion, Vegan | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: