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Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Sadly, I forgot to take photographs of all the ‘free’ food we were presented with in Spain this year.  Furthermore, I only remembered to photograph some of the food we ‘paid’ for.

However, all of the food was delicious.

picture of tuna steak - a la plancha

Sharon’s tuna steak

Whilst holidaying on the Costa Tropical, in the Granada region of Andalucía, we encountered much in the way of free food; we’d buy a drink … and we’d get a free tapa! This doesn’t happen everywhere in Spain, but where it does happen, you feel welcomed and that your custom is valued.

We’ve had such tapas before further inland, and there the price of drinks compares well (often cheaper) with those prices charged on the big ‘no-tapas’ Costas.  In Salobreña and thereabouts, the prices for beer and wine were ever so slightly dearer (perhaps €1.70 – €2.00 each as opposed to €1.40 – €1.70), but every drink came with food.

Your first drink would come along and be accompanied by a particular tapa, e.g. Spanish cheese and olives. Then the subsequent order(s) would each be accompanied by different tapa, e.g. Croquetta with salad leaves or a small plate of jamón.  Even when we went somewhere for a meal, some small thing would be presented to us with our first drink.

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There are a couple of places too in Los Boliches (near Fuengirola), where such treats can be had – the difference here being that the drink doesn’t always come with a tapa. But, there are deals to be had.  A caña (small beer 15cl, 20cl, 25cl) can be had without food, but you can also order a tapa (of your own choice, not just presented to you) to accompany the drink for a combined price of (e.g.) €1.40 or €1.60. 

Often, this will be for the smaller beer, but not always.

Other cafes locally (Los Boliches) sell tapa separately for anything from €2.00 (these are usually slightly larger portions and – for me – often big enough to be called lunch) and in the main they are home-cooked and delicious. So far, our favourite is Bar Pepe in the Plaza Carmen.

We’re learning to avoid the places where cheap frozen ‘stuff’ is served.

I guess that all of this illustrates some of the differences between the Spanish and UK drinking cultures. In Spain, food and drink are inextricably bound together, whereas we see them as two different entities. In Spain, a workman will finish his day (or begin his midday break) with a beer and a tapa, whereas here in the UK I see all the local bars full of workmen finishing their day by quaffing pints and eating nothing more than a packet of crisps.

picture of tomatoes cut and placed on a plate

A simple ‘starter’ of tomato, oil and garlic.

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What is it about a cup of tea that separates the ‘Englishman/English woman’ from the rest of the world?

[Beware – there are some extreme personal tastes and opinions below.]

Nice_Cup_of_Tea

Sharon and I have spent some time in the past, driving around the U.S.A. 

We would end each day desperate for a cup of tea, after driving for hours on end. Or, having woken in the morning needing our ‘morning cuppa’, we would find the only thing available to us was coffee. For those of you who have not travelled there, what I mean is ‘there is no kettle!’, only a coffee machine of some kind or another is provided, along with coffee creamer (yuk).

640px-Mug_of_TeaHere in Spain, it is a similar situation, as hotels do not provide cups or mugs, or indeed any means of making water hot at all.  At least in France you can boil water.  It’s of no use either, trying a nearby restaurant or café as there is nowhere else in the world that knows how make a ‘decent cup of tea’.

So, the trick in those places where hot water can be had, is to take your own teabags.  The ones available locally might say ‘English Breakfast’ or some similar untruth, but they will not have the strength or depth of colour I (we) expect.

There is nothing like a good cup of tea. (I hear both sisters in law suggesting the opposite however.)

Having said all of that, when I am out drinking coffee, I’d rather be in any other place than the U.K. because the coffee we serve at home is nasty.  Nuff said.

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Food Cans

I dislike ring-pull (or easy open, EO) food cans with a real passion.

Yet, it would appear that I am in a minority (see end).

I recently asked my Facebook ‘friends’ to vote on the following question:

Ring pulls on tinned goods (e.g. soups, tomatoes etc.)
Like?
No like?

To clarify the question; I meant ring-pull lids on food stuffs – not drinks such as pop, soda or beer. Ring-pulls on drinks are fine, as they have been (over a period of evolution), perfectly designed to replace the old church-key can openers.

Food tin lids however, are a different thing.

They used to be quite dangerous and I was always afraid of cutting myself as the lid came free of the tin. These days however, they are very much safer than they once were – but oftentimes the lid refuses to break free of the tin, making it difficult to remove the contents and more difficult to wash out before recycling.

cans_background_lids_packaging_durability_tin_tins-1152902.jpg!d

I know that once the contents have been removed the lid can be pushed inwards quite safely and that that makes it easier to wash out, but even that cannot turn me into a ring-pull (EO) friend.

Why?

Well, it seems impossible to remove the lid completely (to more easily empty out the – usually gloopy – contents without covering myself in the residue that sticks to the lid upon release.

I simply find it impossible to open tomatoes, beans, soups (or most recently, sweetcorn) without blathering myself in some food-based mess!

What am I doing wrong?

Screen Shot 2018-03-05 at 10.13.54

Resources

http://www.canmakers.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/v2-History-of-the-Can.pdf

“In the UK, the proportion of food cans with EO ends currently stands at 22% (including petfood) ”
https://www.theguardian.com/notesandqueries/query/0,5753,-2096,00.html

Church-key Image:
By Caltrop (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Ring top tins image
https://pxhere.com/en/photo/1152902

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Gin and Tapas

Earlier this summer I decided that we should hold a ‘Gin’ party.  We had so many bottles of gin (mainly Gordons Export 47.5% stuff), that we thought we’d better share some out amongst friends.

Invites were sent and accepted, and last night the party was duly held.4 gins

Not sure how the bash would go, I simply thought that we could sample, then drink, a variety of tipples (we had four different gins available) with a variety of mixers (guests were asked to bring along a selection of ‘interesting’ mixers – I would supply bog-standard-Schweppes) and intersperse those with a selection of tapas.

Which is what we did.  We also played a few table games which were hilarious, especially as we became more and more gin-soaked.

The food unfolded as the night went on: Tuna Empanadillas and Albondigas were the hot offerings, but we started with cold tapas on the table.  It has just been Lidl’s Spanish week – so we had Manchego cheese, Boquerónes, and Jamón seranno as well as my own Feta salad (with minted cucumber, cherry tomatoes and bacon pieces).

I’d also cooked a Tortilla, but we were too full to need it.  We never made it as far as the Gordon’s gin either.

Jamón Seranno

Lidl’s ‘Spanish Meat Platter’ looked a bit overpriced at £1.99 for what it was so I thought that I would risk the full leg (@£27.95)!!, despite my previous attempt (65th birthday) being a bit of a dog’s dinner. I ‘know’ the layout of bones in a pork leg but last December’s attempt at slicing the ham was an uninformed disaster. I managed to feed everyone, but it wasn’t pretty.

So, during our last few visits to Spain, I’d observed the way various cortadores sliced their meats, so I was a little bit more prepared to attack another full leg. Just to be sure, I watched a few YouTube videos and as a result, made a successful start to the cutting. When, I say ‘start’ I mean that I cut enough for the eight of us last night, and there is at least another twenty to thirty portions still there to be cut.

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The ham is really tasty, not as tasty as the Iberico ham you can buy in Spain, but still more fuller flavoured than the Italian jobs found in supermarkets.

The gins

Rambla 41     https://www.nakedwines.com/products/rambla-41-gin.htm

Brecon Gin     http://penderyn.wales/brecon-gin/

Sheriton Strawberry Gin     http://palaunougintonicbar.com/?p=2095

Jinzu     http://www.ginfoundry.com/gin/jinzu-gin/

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Coffee

Why is it so difficult for me to be served with a coffee I like, the way that I like it? Especially in the U.K. (I have no such problems when travelling elsewhere in Europe).

IMG_6411I gave up on the big chains many years ago, their flavours are often thin and bitter; their portion sizes – too large.

Yet, many of the boutique, independent coffee shops springing up around my locality also often fail to please.

A few years back, one of the apprentices I looked after, worked in one such independent coffee shop and during one of my visits, the owner ‘treat’ me to the ‘best’ coffee he imported from Italy. 

To me, the flavour was bitter and had a sharp, petrol taste to it. He however, was delighted with it and said that his customers enjoyed it very much.

Me?  Not so much, and sadly, this sort of flavour is what I am served in most places – in the U.K.

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There are some local cafes that serve strong, well flavoured, but smooth coffees, but not so many.  And, why do the ‘baristas’ always fail to hear what I ask for?  I used to ask for exactly what I want (“small Americano, slightly less water than normal, with hot milk“), but often noted an inability to remember (an inability to listen!).  So now, I ask for a small Americano with hot milk on the side. It seems to work well in most cases – but today I had to ask three times; each of the first two times I got increasingly larger portions of cold milk!

Is it me?

European Coffees:

  • In Spain I ask for “Cortado“, which is a rich, dark coffee topped off with just a tiny bit of hot milk.
  • In France I ask for “un grand café“, then wait until that has registered before adding “avec un petit pichet du lait chaud, a coté” (although Google Translate suggests that I try “avec un petit pichet de lait chaid sur le côté)

 

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As I said in a previous post, this is my birthday month.

Sharon’s ‘surprise’ gift to me was a Food, wine and history walking tour of Malaga (seeing as we’re down here for Christmas anyway). It was a surprise inasmuch as I only knew that on a particular day we had to catch a particular train from Torreblanca, to be able to present ourselves in the Plaza de la Constitución at 10:30am prompt.  31467462750_82c0fe75d0_n

We were met by Susanne, our guide and were joined by Mike from Manchester.

So just the three of us on the tour – which made it so much better than it might have been with lots more people. Sharon had booked with a company called Devour Spain – they also do tours of Madrid, Seville and Barcelona.

The trip starts with a short history of Malaga’s varying population from the ancient Phoenicians through Romans, Moors and the current Christian occupation. This was then used to pin the different dishes and tastes we went through during our 3½ – 4-hour tour.

We started with (slightly late for me) breakfast at Café Central, just on the corner of the square.

coffee-cupWe were told about the owner’s history and how he came to serve 10 (ten!) different sizes and styles of coffee. We had Pitufo con tomate and churros with our coffee. I had largo. All the coffees come in cups or glasses marked with a percentage – to show that you have been served exactly what you ordered.

Following breakfast we took a stroll to Malaga’s main market: Mercado de Atarazanas where we visited two stalls for extended tastings and more history. Our first tasting stop was the Cristóbal Rios olive stall (stand 241-248).  We tasted three types of olive (but I cannot remember their names – sorry), all varying in strength and taste, along with fried  marcona almonds and locally dried moscatel raisins. These were all delicious.

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Our next stop was at El Niño, still inside the market (stand 187-189). Here we were given a taste of sweet Malaga muscatel wine and a plate of cold cutsJ  There was a tasty, hard goats cheese, Iberian ham, Serrano ham, chorizo and salchichón. It was great to actually have both hams on the same plate, so I could see and taste the difference – and THERE IS a difference! Serrano ham is a much milder flavour and has much less fat than the prized Iberian product. Iberian ham is much fattier, tastier and deeper in flavour – as it should be given the way the pigs are bred. Often known as pata negra, these hams can be seen as different from serrano simply by having black feet. The two sausages were ok, but tend to be much nicer  when cooked.

market_platter

Having had our fill of market produce we took a fairly good stroll to the other side of town to Mainake, a specialist wine merchant. Here we tasted three local Andalusian wines that were unusually dry (rather than the more normal sweet Malaga wines). One white was to Sharon’s taste but too Retsina-ish for me, and then two very young red wines which were, once again, not to my taste.

Lunch was taken at Mesón Mariano in the city centre. We were presented with an amuse bouche of sorts, which was then followed by four entirely different tapas and a single sweet. The restaurant specialises in artichoke dishes and so we started with an artichoke dish: Alcachofas en salsa (it actually had a different name, but looked like this), then we had Boquerones simply coated in seasoned flour and fried. Boquerones are a small white anchovy local to Malaga. Someone from Malaga might be known as a Boquerón.

We then had a tuna dish that was delicious, but what it was called and what the sauce was made of is now beyond me as I was too engrossed with the previous two dishes. Our final tapa was a plate of Albondigas in a local almond sauce.  I like the sauce, but the meatballs were too big and the texture too doughy for my taste.  Our postres (dessert) was a local speciality: Leche frito. This is condensed milk that is friend and topped with a nougat (turrón) ice cream. That was DIFFERENT.

That was it – our tour was over, but it had been a delight. Excellently led by Susanne.

We stayed over in Malaga and had breakfast once again at Café Central. This time we were able to order our own food and coffee (and agua del grifo – tap water J)

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I was sixty-five this month.

To celebrate a lifetime of learning and working, I invited six of my closest chums to join Sharon and me for dinner at The Watermill in Slaithwaite. John R, I met during my first week at secondary school (I met his wife Sandy, when they married). John T, I met when playing rugby and after my family had moved from Sheepridge to Deighton. I met Carol later in life when we all met up again a few years later. Tony and I met in mid-life, when we attended teacher training college. We followed that up by working together in a catering business/franchise, which is when I met Gill, his wife.  We have all done all sorts of things, together and apart.  We had a great meal, followed by dessert at home (Sharon had made cake and Carol had made us tub of her bombe 🙂 ).

img_7450Prior to this, we held open house on the Saturday before my birthday.  Almost forty friends from various parts of my life (and life line) came along to this and we all had a great time chatting and reminiscing.

I had decided to provide a selection of Spanish dishes, tapas size, with beer and cava brought back from Spain in October. Sharon decorated the house in a pseudo Spanish style with a big flag, an inflatable beer island, an inflatable cactus and lots of streamers.

I prepared:

  • EMPANADILLAs, made from potatoes, swede, cheese and onion (baked not fried).
  • I sliced some Spanish Sheep (oveja) cheese. We’d probably call it MANCHEGO.
  • I cooked TORTILLA. Each filled with six eggs, potato and onion. 12 portions each.
  • PATATAS BRAVAS – roast potatoes with spicy tomato sauce.
  • ALBONDIGAS – mixed pork and beef meatballs in a tomato sauce.
  • I also made my version of the Spanish SALAD RUSSE with lots of potato and vegetables (and a little tuna in some).
  • and .. Sharon made a wonderful BEETROOT HUMOUS

I had also made my own focaccia bread to go with all this. As it didn’t turn out quite right, I toasted small pieces of this in the oven – which made it perfect. People pretty much helped themselves while I sliced the main act, SERRANO HAM, off the bone as required.  Thank you for this Aldi!

Emma and family had not been able to make the open house as it was Amy’s birthday, but they came around the following week for a meal. I invited my mum and dad to this too as I wouldn’t see them for the best part of two months afterwards.

So, I’ve had a great birthday month. I’m in Spain now and will receive my birthday gift from Sharon on Tuesday when she takes me on a surprise ‘something’ in Malaga. I’m looking forward to that.

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