Tuesday, 26 July 2011

"Don't tickle your tastebuds, seduce them..."

Summer Fruit Mess

This is my take on of  Britain's favourite desserts, Eton Mess, which is a traditional summer dish, served on school playing fields at the public school's annual sports day.

You could make your own meringue - it's easy and rewarding, and if this were a pavlova, it'd be a good idea to do so - but for my summer fruit mess, bought meringues work brilliantly.

These are my all time favourites - Cotswold Handmade Meringues

I've made the most of summer berries by using a combination of sweet and tart, rather than just strawberries. Also I used ready whipped cream - makes life that bit easier and my twist on this  'Mess' is  for that extra sweetness and flavour I've added a layer of mango yogurt.

It's such a simple dessert but so lovely - the fresh, sweet berries with the crunchy, slightly chewy meringue against the smooth, soft whipped cream. Yummy !!!

Serves 8
1lb/450gms of strawberries
1lb/450gms raspberries
1lb/450gms blueberries
8 meringue nests
1 large carton whipped cream
1 large carton mango yogurt
1/2 cup sugar
Stem the strawberries and wash all the fruit
Add half the raspberries and blueberries into a pan with the sugar and reduce on a low heat
Slice the strawberries but leave at least 16 for decoration
When the raspberries and blueberries resemble a puree remove from heat and set aside to cool
Break the meringue nests into bite size pieces
To assemble
Use 8 tall glasses ie: wine goblets
Layer the fruit, cream, meringue and yogurt
alternately until the glasses are full
To decorate: top with the whole strawberries a couple of raspberries and
blueberries and pour over the fruit puree

 Cotswold Handmade Meringues
        Terretts Mill, Newmarket Road
    GL6 0RF

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Spanish Olives (Aceitunas)

Spanish olives are rated amongst the best in the world and Spain produces almost 30% of the world's olive oil and is responsible for almost half of the world's olive production, not surprising really as some of the best varieties of olive are found in Spain with a substantial quantity coming from Andalusia.

It was the Phoenicians who first brought the olive tree to Spain, but the Ancient Romans are credited with establishing vast farms of olives, often owned by absentee landlords who lived back in Rome. Although Italy produced its own olives, the Romans relied on Spain as a major supplier of olive oil to the Empire.
At this period green and black olives were cured in salt or brine and eaten both at grand Roman banquets as appetizers and by the common man as a breakfast snack with a hunk of bread.

The Moorish invasion of Spain in the 8th century AD developed and sustained the olive industry in Southern Spain, as it declined in many other parts of the former Roman Empire, introducing new varieties and production methods. 800 years later when the last of the Moors left Spain and it was ruled by Catholic kings, a taste for olive oil was considered to indicate suspicious sympathies for the old regime and lard was re-established as the principle cooking fat in all but the southern regions of Spain.

A handful of olives continued to be a common snack throughout the centuries in Southern Spain. When the tradition of tapas was born, as a snack to accompany a glass of wine in between meals, the first and simplest tapas would have been a slice of bread with a few olives, or a slice of ham

There are hundreds of varieties of olives in cultivation in Spain. These vary according to the region where they are grown and also how they're prepared.The Manzanilla and Queen olives are probably the most well known and popular olives.

Manzanilla Olives
The Manzanillas are grown almost everywhere in Spain and especially Andalusia. They are small and tender and are considered the perfect martini olive, they are also ideal for stuffing, the most popular stuffing being anchovies.

Queen Olives
Queen olives are large, plump and fleshy and are grown in the Seville province of Andalusia. They are perfect for stuffing as they are large and fantastic in aroma and flavour and go really well with peppers, almonds or seafood.

Picual Olives
The most important variety of olive is the Picual and is grown in the provinces of Jaen, Cordoba and Granada in Andalusia. This olive represents almost 50% of Spain's olive production and is delightfully peppery and fresh.

Hojiblanca Olives
The Hojiblanca olive is a pure delight and the first olive I tried that I immediately liked due to its intense and diverse flavour - it tastes like lots of olives in one it is peppery, then fruity with traces of almonds and even grassy hints. The name comes from the leaves, hoja meaning leaf and blanca white and from a distance these trees look vary bright and almost silver.

Arbequina Olives
Another of my recommendations is the Arbequina olive which comes from Aragon and Catalonia and is Spain's best loved olive. The fruit is small and delicate with lovely diverse flavours ranging from smoky and mild to earthy and fruity with hints of artichokes and even apple.

Verdial Olives
The Sierra Magina in the Jaen province of Andalusia is home to the beautifully dark Verdial olive which is quite large with a distinct fruity, yet spicy flavour. I would recommend this olive to a seasoned connoisseur as it is robust and commands respect.

Picolimon Olives
The Picolimon olive is a great table olive with its juicy fullness and fresh citrus flavour. They are round and fleshy and go really well with nuts and dried fruit as an aperitif.

Picudo Olives
The Picudo olive with its lovely unique pointed end like a peak which is from where the name is derived, is generally found in the Andausian regions of Malaga, Jaen, Granada and especially Baena in Cordoba . It is a sweet and fruity olive with soft juicy flesh and makes for a popular table olive in both the green and black varieties.

Carried these back in my suitcase

Generally olives are harvested whilst still green and as a result they are not yet fully ripe and if eaten raw are very hard and bitter. Before bottling, they have to be 'cured' and this is where the fun begins when choosing your favourite type of olive. Initially the preparation for bottling begins with washing and then storing in brine for a long period of time to remove the bitterness and soften them.

During the curing process of green olives, the brine is often prepared with different herbs and aromatics for an exciting but subtly flavoured olive. In some cases families who have been curing their own olives for generations use carefully guarded secret recipes which results in a totally unique olive.

How olives are stuffed:
For centuries, olives were pitted and stuffed by hand. Today everything is done by machines. Sweet Spanish Pepper (pimiento) is the most common stuffing., however my personal favourites are stuffed with anchovies. After harvesting the peppers are placed in brine and shipped to the Seville area where the peppers are ground and mixed with gelling agents to make a reconstituted paste. The paste is then cut and formed into ribbons that are fed into pitting and stuffing machines. The machines pit the olive, take the pimiento and cut them into small pieces and stuff them into the olives all in one smooth operation. Over 1000 olives can be stuffed per hour.

Aceitunas- sabor de anchoa

Slow cooked chicken with olives and capers

4 chicken drumsticks
4 chicken thighs
2 tomatoes
2 large potatoes, peeled and diced
1 onion, diced
1 garlic clove
1small jar/tin of Spanish green olives
small jar of capers

In a large cooking pot, heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil and sear the chicken pieces until all sides have a brown, crisp sear.

While chicken is searing, cut the tomatoes and onion into large chunks, place in blender along with the garlic, and blend until it forms a thick sauce.

Once Chicken is done searing add the sauce and the remaining ingredients.

Bring to a boil, cover the pot and lower the temperature.

Simmer for two hours or until the chicken becomes tender.

Add salt and pepper to taste

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Mussels and clams with tomato

The seashore - Gouache by Lorraine Rimmer

One of the biggest problems with eating shellfish is how we prepare them and not shellfish themselves. They’re often served with butter, mayonnaise based sauce, battered, breadcrumbed and fried. Just about everything you’d want to avoid on a weightloss or healthy diet!

However mussels and clams are a wonderful food with a delicate taste that are high in protein and low in cholesterol and fat. So why not try steaming and serving with fresh tomato, white wine and a squeeze of fresh lemon as a healthy, optional  way of cooking them.

Fresh clams and mussels

serves 2 - 3

900 g (2 lb) fresh mussels
450 g (1 lb) small clams, such as venus clams
25 g (1 oz) butter
1 - 2 large garlic cloves, skinned and crushed
1 small onion, skinned and finely chopped
150 ml (1/4 pint) dry white wine
225 g (8 oz) ripe tomatoes, chopped
finely grated rind of 1 lemon
30 ml (2 tsp) chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper

To prepare the mussels, wash them thoroughly under running cold water, then scrape off any barnacles with a small sharp knife. Cut off the fibrous beards that protrude from between the shells. Wash in several changes of water. Discard any cracked mussels, or any that do not close when tapped sharply with a knife.

Scrub the clams thoroughly and discard any that are cracked or open.

Melt the butter in a large pan, add the garlic and onion and cook gently for a few minutes, until the onion is softened. Add the wine, tomatoes, lemon rind and half of the parsley. Bring to the boil.

Add the mussels and the clams to the pan, cover and cook over a high heat for 3 -4 minutes or until the mussels and clams are open, shaking the pan occasionally. Discard any mussels or clams that have not opened.
Season to taste. Transfer to two large bowls or soup plates and sprinkle with the remaining parsley. Serve with lots of crusty bread.

Nutritional values

Shellfish are a great source of vitamin B-12 and can be eaten raw, baked, steamed, fried, or made into chowder. In addition to vitamin B-12 shellfish are a good source of zinc, copper, and iron. Clams provide the most vitamin B-12 but mussels and oysters are also good sources.

Vitamin B-12, or Cobalamin, is the largest and most complex vitamin currently known to man. A slight deficiency of vitamin B-12 can lead to anemia, fatigue, mania, and depression, while a long term deficiency can potentially cause permanent damage to the brain and central nervous system. Vitamin B-12 can only be manufactured by bacteria and can only be found naturally in animal products, however, synthetic forms are widely available and added to many foods like cereals. Vitamin B-12 can be consumed in large doses because excess is excreted by the body or stored in the liver for use when supplies are scarce.
Stores of B-12 can last for up to a year.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011


Origin and history of tapas
The tradition of serving small snacks with drinks is found all over Spain but originated in Andalucia, a Southern province of Spain.  These snacks are called 'tapas'. The word "tapas" is derived from the Spanish verb tapar, "to cover".
The association with appetizers is thought to have come from the old habit of placing a slice of bread or a piece of ham on top of one's wine glass, first to prevent insects or other impurities falling into the glass and secondly, for the guests to soak up the alcohol they had drunk with something solid,. This edible lid was the precursor of modern-day tapas.
Tapas are intended as appetizers, as a nibble before the meal but they can be "upgraded" to bigger portions, equivalent to half a dish (media ración) or a whole one (ración). This is generally more economical when a tapa is being ordered by more than one person

If you ever go to Spanish bar maybe some of the names will sound familiar to you from now on!!

List of Spanish Tapas

Albondigas - Meatballs
Alitas de pollo - Chicken wings
Almejas - Clams
Berenjenas horneadas - Roasted aubergines
Butifarra - Sausage from Catalunya
Calamares - Battered squid
Callos - Tripe
Caracoles - Snails
Chistorra - Spicy sausage
Chopitos - Small cuttlefish fried in batter
Chorizo al vino - Spicy sausage pan-fried in red wine
Cogollos fritos - Lettuce fried in garlic and oil
Costillas - Ribs
Croquetas - Croquettes, normally with ham, chicken or cod
Diablitos picantes - Mini hamburgers
Escombros - Fry up of bits of small squid.
Empanadillas - large or small turnovers filled with meats and vegetables
Ensaladilla rusa - russian salad

Ensaladilla rusa

Figatell - Speciality of Valencia meatballs of pork and liver similar to faggots
Gambas pil pil - Sizzling Prawns in Olive Oil and Garlic
Gambas rebozadas - Battered prawns Huevos de codorniz - Quail's eggs
Jamon serrano - Spanish ham
Judias blancas - Butterbeans and whole cloves of garlic in a white wine vinegar
Longaniza blanca - Normal sausage colour but not as spicy as longaniza roja
Longaniza roja - A speciality of Aragon, red spicy pork sausage
Magro - Pork in a paprika/tomato style sauce
Mejillones - Mussels
Mejillones rellenos (Tigres) - Stuffed Mussels.
Merluza a la Romana - Hake with a very thin batter
Morcilla - Black pudding
Muslitos de mar - A croquette of crab-like meat skewered on a crab claw
Orejas de Cerdo - Pig's ear
Patatas a lo pobre - Potatoes with onions and peppers
Patatas alioli - Potatoes in a garlic mayonnaise
Patatas bravas - Potatoes in a spicy sauce
Pincho moruno - A stick with spicy meat, made of pork, lamb or chicken.
Pimientos de Padrón - Small green peppers originally from Padrón
Pollo al ajillo - Chicken in garlic
Queso Manchego - Manchego cheese in varying degrees of maturity
Rabo de Toro - Bull's tail or oxtail
Sepia - Cuttlefish
Tortilla Espanola - Spanish potato omelette


Try to try as much as you can but remember they aren't small at all.


Here's a foolproof tapa that my family really enjoy.

Crispy chorizo and new potatoes
(chorizo con patatas nuevas)

Serves 4-6 as part of a selection of tapas

500g new potatoes, scrubbed
3 (about 300g) cooking chorizo sausages, chopped into 1 cm slices
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves chopped finely
2 tbs dry Madeira
Baby spinach for decoration

Boil the potatoes for 8-10 minutes, or until cooked but still firm. Remove from the heat and cool them under running cold water, then cut them in half lengthways on the diagonal and set aside.

Heat a large, non-stick frying pan to hot and cook the chorizo for 2-3 minutes, or until the oils are released. Add the potatoes and rosemary and cook, stirring frequently, over a high heat for a further 2-3 minutes, or until golden and crispy.

Reduce the heat and add the Madeira. Stir and leave to caramelise and brown for a further 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add spinach and serve.

Crisry chorizo and potatoes with baby spinach