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Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Tomato_jeWhenever I am in Spain, I always take advantage of the local produce.  There’s no point going there and stewing cabbage or boiling turnips (not that you see much of those on the Costa del Sol), when the soft Mediterranean, often very local, (fruit) vegetables are in great abundance.

The aubergines, courgettes, peppers and tomatoes all have a fabulous depth of flavour – even the knobbly, small cucumbers actually have taste, unlike the long, smooth, hot-house grown phalluses available here. Therefore, invariably, the first dish made is ratatouille.

s-l640One problem with my ratatouille in Spain is that I have less access to chopped tinned tomatoes or passata. Over there they have more tomato frito, which, although a similar consistency to passata, is quite sweet and can overpower the finished flavour.

I decided therefore, to make my own tomato sauce and to use that for all of the dishes that require such a thing.

28492528636_d730e0ea97_zThe Spanish grow some fabulously tasty tomatoes. 

Even when served under-ripe, with a little salt, oil, parsley and crushed garlic, they make a meal; accompanied by some local ‘Spanish’ bread.

For the tomato sauce, I simply chopped up a kilo of tomatoes and brought them to the boil along with a small, chopped onion, 4 peeled cloves garlic and about a tablespoon each of olive oil and tomato puree. Then, I let that lot simmer for a couple of hours, topping up with tiny bits of water now and again. I then seasoned it, blitzed it all with a hand blender and used as required (sauce for pasta, added flavour for paella, to loosen up ratatouille, slackened off as soup etc.).

I sometimes add (fresh) basil or oregano towards the end of cooking, for added flavour.

I made the same last week, with Aldi tomatoes and had to add a jar of Lloyd Grossman sauce to give it any flavour at all.

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What has happened to table knives? 

When did they begin to lose their function?

blades

Function

The purpose of a knife is to cut, slice and chop – surely?  Yet, I’m not sure that table knives are designed to do that anymore.

Several times recently, especially in restaurants, I have been frustrated by having to use the knife provided, to ‘tear’ at the meat (etc.) on my plate, instead of actually cutting it.  I occasionally have had to retrieve a more robust vegetable, such as new potato, from wherever it has landed on the table after trying to cut it with my knife.

2knivesI’d be better off using a spoon!  

And, don’t even try to cut the nicely cooked almost al dente broccoli stem! Even Yorkshire Puddings fight back.

Design

Modern tableware is blunt.

It no longer serves its purpose and it’s probably down to some caring soul somewhere, thinking that we might cut ourselves. I do have sharp knives and the ones I use at the table, whilst not AS sharp, can at least cut whatever is placed in front of them.  However, not everyone has such knives anymore.

Some folks also (however), have ‘handed’ knives.

These are designed to make cutting easier for right-handed people.  Because there is a chamfer on one side of the blade, it allows the knife to have a sharper edge, but not one (apparently) that will allow the right-handed person to cut themselves.  However, unless this type of knife is specially designed for left-handed folks – they become impossible to use when in the hands of such southpaws.

See also Fish Knives why?.

Messerbank_2_fcm

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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.

FullSizeRender

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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