Recent Posts
  • 12 grapes for Xmas

    Eating 12 grapes at midnight on New Year’s Eve is the traditional way to welcome the New Year in Spain. The grapes are considered lucky las doce uvas de la suerte (“the 12 lucky grapes”). They are eaten one at a time with each of the twelve chimes of midnight. Clock face on Big Ben Spaniards listen to the bells on the clock tower of the 18th-century Real Casa de Correos in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol. UK New Years Eve celebrations centre around the bells of Big Ben above the Houses of Parliament in London. Buying Red Underwear for New Years Eve Each grape represents one of the twelve months to follow and the superstitious Spanish believe that you need to wear a piece of red underwear given to you by someone else while eating them to guarantee good luck. Along with the underwear you need to have swallowed all twelve grapes by the final toll of the bell. Various strategies are suggested to make the grape swallowing easier and quicker: Get small green seedless grapesTry not to laugh (not easy)Concentrate on the bongs, you have about 2 seconds for each grapeGet hold of some authentic Spanish tinned seedless peeled grapes.Line up the grapes and pop them in, in tune with the bongsHalve the grapes beforehand (good for children) By the way, stuffing them all in your mouth at once or starting before the first bong is cheating and you may suffer the consequences. Tins 0f 12 Seedless Peeled Grapes If you can down the grapes while under the influence of alcohol, without descending into fits of giggles, and without gagging while all the time wearing the requisite red undergarment then you deserve the good luck they will bring.

  • La Tasca tapas spread

    Putting on a Tapas Spread? Putting on a tapas spread? These easy to make tapas recipes are my favourites. The tapas-style of eating has undergone a bit of a revolution here in the UK in recent years. We have had some excellent restaurants serving tapas for many years but they are few and far between. Tapas and a cold beer Cafes, bars and gastropubs have sprung up all over serving small portions of food alongside a drink. What has changed is the quality of the food. The days of the soggy roll and dried out curled up ham sandwich has gone thank goodness. Where Can I Buy The Ingredients? The biggest change is the availability of ingredients needed to make authentic tapas dishes at home. We have had Italian style deli’s for years, but now the supermarkets like M&S and Sainsbury’s have caught up with our need to have a taste of Spanish cooking and are selling good quality chorizo, pimenton, cheeses, cured meats and even Padron peppers! Padron peppers from Marks and Spencer You are still very unlikely to find double sucker octopus on the wet fish counter and you will probably have to substitute fresh cockles for almejas clams but for the determined, there is mail order. Portsmouth Cockles For those like me who live in central London, we have Brindisa in Borough Market. Find out more about Brindisa and what they sell here. Pulpo a la GallegaPimientos de PadrónMorcilla Stuffed Baby Squid (Calamares Rellenos con Morcilla)Nanny’s Bread PuddingBacon and Onion Roly-Poly Pudding My Favourites I couldn’t decide on which single tapa is my favourite or even a top 10 as I like all these tapas recipes so much. So as they say in the X-factor here they are in no particular order. Sauteed Chorizo with Red Wine This sauteed chorizo with red wine is an authentic recipe for this tapas dish. Let’s face it, chorizo sausage with all that smoked paprika and garlic is one of the best cooking ingredients ever invented and I love it. Serrano Ham Croquetas This easy croquetas de jamón Serrano recipe proves that the true trick to Spanish ham croquettes is time, patience, and a great arm for stirring the bechamel sauce! Pimientos de Padrón Any decent tapas bar or restaurant will have pimientos de Padrón on the menu. They’re usually mild in flavour, with low levels of capsaicin. Every once in a while, however, you’ll bite into one that’s surprisingly spicy, making the act of eating them even more exciting. Pimientos de Padron Pulpo a La Gallega Pulpo a la Gallega or Pulpo a Feira (Galician name meaning fair-style octopus) is a traditional dish from the region of Galicia. If you can get some, use the imported double sucker octopus like the one from Brindisa. When cooked it is much more tender than our UK native octopus which is tough and rubbery. Pulpo a la Gallega Papas Arrugadas Papas arrugadas are the classic Canarian wrinkled potatoes. Brought over by explorers to South America in the 1600s and cultivated in the Canary Islands ever since you are sure to have had them on holiday there. Now you can try and make them at home. We don’t have quite the right potatoes like papa Bonita from Gran Canaria but any small variety should do. Papas arrugadas with mojo sauce Tortilla de Patatas Tortilla de patatas can be found in every Spanish home, cafe and restaurant. They all seem to have their own variation. From adding fried peppers or chorizo, onions or no onions, runny or dry, the list is endless. Tortilla with courgette Paella Most non-Spaniards think that paella is Spain’s national dish. Whereas Spaniards themselves think of paella as a regional dish from Valencia on Spain’s east coast. This simple paella recipe uses a mix of meat, seafood and colourful veg for a lively combination of flavours and textures. Smoky Albondigas Smoky albondigas aka Spanish meatballs. Make these Spanish meatballs using beef and pork mince and serve in a rich tomato sauce as part of a tapas spread. Almejas a La Marinera An authentic recipe for almejas a la marinera, often served as a Spanish appetizer at Christmas dinner. These Spanish style clams are addictive, so make lots! Crispy Squid and Prawns This crispy squid and prawns tapas recipe from Jamie Oliver is a great addition to any tapas spread. You can use shop-bought chilli sauce or a dipping sauce, but give the homemade sauce in the recipe a go, it has some real kick! Five Spice Dusted Whitebait These delicious little whitebait deep fried in a spicy crispy coating make a great starter or tapas dish.

  • leeks

    Well, what do you need to know about leeks? Leeks are a member of the onion family. The Roman Empire grew them for their more refined flavour than the stronger onion. Nero Apparently, Emperor Nero was partial to them as he believed they would improve his voice. He ate so many that he gained the nickname Porophagus (leek eater). Also eaten by the peoples of Ancient Egypt and Greece, leeks are the original superfood. They are high in fibre, vitamin B and other heart-protecting substances like flavonoids and polyphenols. Leeks Saved Wales! Legend has it that the humble leek saved Wales during the Battle of Heathfield in 633AD. The Welsh army was persuaded by a Celtic monk named David that they needed to be identified in battle by wearing an emblem. The emblem chosen was a leek worn in the soldier’s helmet. The Welsh led by King Caldwallader beat the Saxons in battle and the tradition of proudly wearing a leek is continued to this day. David the monk was canonised and he is celebrated each year on St Davids day. During this period the leek also acquired mystic virtues. It was claimed that girls who slept with a leek under their pillow on St David’s Day would see their future husband in their dreams. Leeks and St Patrick The Irish too have their own legend regarding leeks. A dying elderly woman had a vision that showed her a floating herb that looked like rushes. The vision revealed that she must eat the rushes or die. St Patrick consoled the woman and transformed some rushes into leeks, which she ate. Miraculously the woman was cured. Vichyssoise Soup Cock-a-Leekie Soup My Thoughts on Leeks I can’t claim any miraculous cures or battle honours from leeks but I do know they taste really good and make a versatile ingredient in any kitchen. Personally, I like them braised and then finished under the grill with a sprinkling of parmesan. Traditional Fresh Mint SauceBarbequed MusselsEdible Snails – Helix AspersaCatch It and Cook It – CuttlefishCatch It and Cook It – Squid (Calamari)

  • fishing chesilbeach sunset

    Sea fishing and cooking are my two passions in life. Share my experiences of catching fish around the south coast of the UK and cooking them to share with my friends and family over the dinner table. The Spanish style of cooking with olives and peppers is my favourite and suits fish so well. With the finished dish served in the centre of the table, everyone digs in. The French say “you eat with your eyes”, the colours and the presentation of Spanish family cooking fits this perfectly. I Catch It Basically, if I’m near the sea I want to go fishing. 20 years ago I had a sudden onset of chronic sea sickness so had to stop boat fishing. After corrective surgery last year the sea sickness disappeared so I am back boat fishing and enjoying every minute. So I go fishing: From a boat … Or From a pier … And on the beach … When On holiday … Canary Islands It’s a good job my poor long-suffering wife of over 40 years doesn’t mind my passion for fishing. Sometimes, annoyingly, if she tags along she catches more than me! Both of my sons fish, my grandsons fish, even our 4 year old twin granddaughters go fishing with me. Not Caught It Yet! Even after all these years fishing there are some UK species that elude me: Thornback Ray Bullhuss These two are my target species for 2021. Then I Cook It Having caught it, or sometimes bought it now we have to prepare and cook it. Fresh fish is so nice to eat and very healthy, especially the oily fish like mackerel or herring. Currently trendy and very popular, sushi has exploded onto the UK eating scene. The nearest I get to sushi is smoked salmon. Some fish are very delicate like plaice, others are more robust like turbot and different cooking techniques are required to bring out the best in each. I will bake, fry, steam, casserole, marinade or roast fish depending on what I catch that day. I am always on the lookout for new and interesting recipes but am heavily influenced by the Spanish style of cooking. Spanish style baked fish My Catch It and Cook It Stories … CassouletPapas arrugadas

  • common whelks

    Many of us have fond memories of visiting the seaside and buying some seafood from a stall. You then douse it in white pepper and vinegar and enjoy the taste of freshly caught and cooked shellfish. You taste prawns, mussels, cockles, winkles and for the brave souls among us whelks. You catch whelks using baited traps called pots on the sea bed. Experienced fishermen say that whelks are attracted to a bait mixture of fish and dead crabs. Whelk pot Since 2017 there are strict rules in place governing pot design and landing sizes. A minimum shell size of 53mm is mandatory around the Kent and Essex coasts since 2020. The trouble with whelks is that you have to really like them as it can take a good few minutes to chew them. In my past experience, they are rubbery and fairly tasteless. Plate of Cockles and Whelks Whelks used to be a very common foodstuff for the poor in some parts of Victorian London. They were cheap and nutritious. In more recent times they have fallen out of fashion, but we still land about 10,000 tonnes of them a year in the UK, of which 95% go for export to the far east. Whelks Being Landed In South Korea, they are a regular foodstuff, even sold as an aphrodisiac. Although to be fair their dishes do seem to contain a fair bit of fresh chilli, root ginger and soy sauce to enhance the flavour. So next time you visit the seashore, find some rocks, search them out, and give this stir-fry a go. You will never look at a whelk the same way again. Stir Fried Whelks Whelks in an oriental stir fry with crispy noodles. 500 g Whelks (fresh if available)2 tbsp Rape seed oil250 g Bamboo shoots (thinly sliced)2 cloves Garlic (sliced)1 Red chilli (sliced)5 cm Cooking chorizo (chopped)1 tbsp Ginger (grated)2 tbsp Soy sauce1 tbsp Oyster sauce1 tbsp Sesame oil1 bunch Spring onions (sliced)½ bunch Coriander (chopped)Thin egg noodles3 tbsp Peanut oil To cook fresh whelksTenderise the whelks by placing them in a freezer at least overnight.Place the whelks in a pan of cold water and bring it up to a gentle simmer, do not let it boil or they will become tough and rubbery. Simmer for 15 minutes and then remove from the heat and allow the whelks to cool in the cooking water.Once cooked, pull the whelk out of the shell, remove the little plastic-like disc on the foot end, remove the stomach sack and a small bit of muscle (identifiable by its feeling tougher than the rest of the whelk) and they are done.For the stir fryThinly slice the whelks. Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan over high heat, add the sliced whelks and bamboo shoots and stir fry for about 2-3 minutes. Remove from the wok and set aside.Return the wok to the heat and add the garlic, chilli, chorizo and ginger. Stir fry for a further 2-3 minutes, then add the soy sauce, oyster sauce and sesame oil.Return the whelks and bamboo shoots to the wok and stir fry for another 2-3 minutes, or until the liquid in the wok has thickened and coats the whelks. Add most of the spring onions and coriander, tossing well to mix through. Set aside.Blanch the noodles in a large pan of boiling water for 2-3 minutes, or until just tender. Drain well and set aside.Heat a large frying pan over a high heat and add 1½ tbsp's of the peanut oil. Evenly spread the drained noodles over the base of the pan,then turn the heat to low and allow the noodles to gently fry for 4-5 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp on the bottom.Gently flip the noodles over, adding another 1½ tbsp's of the oil to the pan. Cook for a further 3-4 minutes, or until the noodles are golden brown and crisp all over. Remove from the pan and drain on kitchen roll.To servePlace the noodles in the middle of a warm plate and spoon the whelks and bamboo shoots on top. Garnish with the reserved spring onions and coriander. Based on a recipe by Mark Sargeant. Main CourseBritish, Korean