Sunday, 1 June 2014

Tapas, Pulpo alla Gallega

Now that the sun has come out to play again, I feel like socializing outside and gathering my friends around for a Tapas Party. 


I made a variety of Tapas, but the one I would like to share with you is the Pulpo alla Gallega. Otherwise known as Octopus Gallega style.
I first had this dish in Madrid, in our usual Tapas bar and loved it then. It's not often you come across Octopus in a shop here in the UK, so when I saw one in the freezer of an Asian supermarket, I had to have it.
Here is how I prepared it. 
This octopus was frozen, but if it is fresh it must be frozen first for a day, then defrosted. This helps the tenderising process.
Ingredients:
1 Octopus (Pulpo)
1 Onion
3 Bayleafes
Water
Sea Salt
Spanish smolked Paprika
A good Spanish Olive Oil

Place a large pot with Water onto stove, add 3 Bayleafes and a halved Onion and bring to a rolling boil. Salt will be sprinkled on the finished dish, so NO salt in the Water.
Rinse the octopus, then using kitchen tongues grap it by the head cavity and lover into the boiling water for 5 seconds. Take it back out for 5 seconds, lower again for 5 seconds. Repeat 3 times. This closes the pores and helps it keep the skin tight. (Or something like that... It's what they do in Gallega and that's this recipe, so just do it! :-)
After the 3rd time leave it in the water, bring back to simmering point then simmer, covered, for 45 minutes. At that point check with a small sharp knife at a thick part of the Pulpo, if it feels tender. The same way you would check if a potato is cooked. If it does, turn off the heat and leave to cool in the water. If it's still very tough carry on simmering for 10 minutes and check again. Keep doing it that way until it has reached the tender point. Cooking it for too long can make it toughen up again.
Finally take the octopus out and slice into bite sized pieces. Arrange on a platter or better still on a round wooden board. Sprinkle over the Sea Salt, Paprika and drizzle the olive oil. A final sprinkle of Paprika and serve. Room themperature is best.


My guests and especially my spanish friends loved it, so it was a winner for me.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Maafushi, Budget holiday for Tee Totals

There it is again, the old wise man's saying; 'If you haven't got anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.'
Well I do have nice things to say about Maafushi, a local island in the Maldives, that since 2010 opened it's guesthouse doors to tourists for very reasonable prices. 


First of all I like that the government changed it's mind about letting the locals make their own money from tourism rather then giving it all to the big hotel chains. Secondly the locals are doing a wonderful job, being some of the most welcoming, friendly and gently beautiful hosts I've encountered on my travels.


All of the Guest houses are very new and built to a high standard. Even better than expected for the price. A funny thing I noticed is that the menus have all exactly the same dishes. You'll find out what is actually available when you try to order something. Likelihood is that they don't have it. Though I'm feeling quite enchanted by that, and think it is only normal for an island like this, relying on daily incoming goods by boat. The food I did have was nicely prepared. 


In fact the seafood soup I liked so much, I will crave it forever after. I wish I had ask them for the recipe.


The excursions on offer are nice looking days trips to picnic islands, snorkeling, diving, fishing and all manner of water sports, and not at all dear. The guesthouses have their own boats and they charge the same prices, so no need to shop around. Definitely something I would recommend doing. In fact, do one excursion every day!

Unfortunately that's pretty much where it ends with the 'nice' things. 
On this occasion, and just because I think it's fair, here I will list some of the things I didn't like about Maafushi. 
First, there is still great need for development and cleaning up the shores from debris and floating water bottles. 
Then with the influx of money I can only hope that many of the local buildings will be made to appear more pleasing rather then being eyesores as they are now.


Also Maafushi's beach now allows tourists to wear bikinis. This is a good thing, I wouldn't really like to sit on a beach fully dressed, would you? The beach, by the way, for Maldivian standards, is pretty average when it comes to looks.
Finally my biggest bugbear however has to be the imposed alcohol absence.
Holiday I associate with having fun. On my usual holiday I will definitely have a drink at sunset, sometimes 2 or 3 and occasionally loose count. For someone to forbid me to have a glass of wine with my dinner or otherwise is just plain unacceptable. I realise it's a Muslim country, I respect the religion and will never question what they do or don't do. But I am not Muslim not even while I am on my holiday. I'm paying you my money to stay on your island and then I'm told that I can't do what is perfectly normal for me?
Not being able to have a drink, I associate with work, being in hospital or being imprisoned. Not with being on holiday. The sad truth is, I felt a little bit imprisoned on Maafushi.


One more thing that really needs to be improved is the acces to the island. One scheduled boat from Male at 1500, taking 1 1/2 to 2 hours, and one going to Male at 0730 is not enough. Who in their right mind wants to get up before the cockerel on their holiday or get to your destination at sunset, missing half of the day? 
Yes. My Rant is now over, you'll be glad to hear.
Will I return? Yes, provided the transport is better and I can have my glass of wine to accompany the stunningly beautiful sunsets.


Meanwhile I will miss the wonderful locals and staff with their warm smiles and friendly chats.



Saturday, 28 December 2013

City Garden, Male, Maldives

Now here is a lovely spot I have until now, not discovered yet. I just cannot understand how this happened. City Garden is just about the finest location on this island to sit and eat or have a coffe while watching the ongoings in the Marina.
It always amazes me how so many boats can manoeuvre around each other with such graceful ease. Being a boat owner myself, it makes me want to spend more time sailing it, rather then just being moored up in our Marina.


So the view is perfect, of course, given you get a seat on the terrace balcony, like I have today.
The food and choice of dishes on the menu are also really tempting. I have had a recommendation that the Chiili Prawns are to die for. But I chose a fish dish from the Thai Menu and some Water Spinach as a side today. 


Both were lovely as was the Lavazza Coffee afterwards. A wonderful thing in a place where no alcohol is served is that everyone drinks Tea or Coffee, so it's bound to be the finest.


I must also mention that as soon as I walked in I was warmly welcomed by the waiter, who had a friendly smile throughout. As a woman in a Muslim country, eating out alone, this was very comforting sight. City Garden is definitely top of list of restaurants in Male from now on.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Pissaladiere

This Southern French pastry is a bit like a pizza as it does have a pizza base, but there is no cheese or tomato in sight. Just packed full of flavourful sweet onions topped with savoury olives and anchovies.
I discovered it while in Nice at the Cote Azure, in a Supermarket. I bought it, tried it and was smitten with it. Here is my easy recipe.


Ingredients:
2 ready mix Pizza Base mixtures
About 1kg Onions, sliced
2 Garlic Cloves, sliced
About 10 good black Olives, pitted and halved
1 small tin of Anchovies, oil discarded and filets sliced in half lengthways
A generous glug of Olive Oil
Fresh Thyme, Salt, Sugar and Pepper


Prepare the ready make Pizza dough as the instructions tell you on the packet. That's the easy part. You can of course make one from scratch if you like.
While the dough is proving, start to sautee the Onions and Garlic in the olive oil. Use a large enough pan on a medium heat. This process should take about half an hour. Keep tossing the onions every now and then and be patient. Season with a little Salt, Pepper and Sugar.


Once the dough has proven roll it into a large rectangle and shape it onto a baking tray pushing the edges up a little at the sides.
Fill this base with the sautéed onions, sprinkle with the fresh Thyme and garnish with the Anchovies and Olives.


Now of course it is ready for the oven. Bake the Pissaladiere at a fairly high heat (200C) for about 20 minutes or until the base has turned lovely and golden on the sides and it looks deliciously ready.
Cut into squares and enjoy hot, warm or cold.


Friday, 29 November 2013

Sichuan Palace Male, Maldives

This fine Chinese restaurant has an interesting menu and great service. The price does reflect this, as main dishes are around 120-850 MVR, that's about $8 and upwards. But let's see if the food is worth it. 
The service is definitely great. As soon as I revealed my iPhone, the waiter appeared with a little note containing the wifi code. I liked that.


This is the second time I am here. At first it seems very quiet but it can suddenly fill up with large groups sitting on the round tables with the fantastic spinning plate called 'Lazy Susan'.


I always find myself a little envious as I can only choose 2 dishes from the menu while they can share 10 different delights. This is of course a downside of a lone traveller.

Tonight I'm drinking a Chinese green tea and I am pleasantly surprised by the loose tea leaves in the pot. It's a delicate flavour with a subtle earthiness that you'd expect from a good chinese tea.
The dishes I chose are Kang Kung with Shrimp Sauce, that's water spinach to you and me.


And also Steamed Noodles with minced Chicken on Sichuan Sauce. 


It's all very good. But as suspected I realise a chinese meal should be eaten in a group. Just 2 dishes leave me wanting more. Not in quantity as there is plenty on my plates, but variety. I just love the whole sharing many dishes kind of eating. Don't you?


Saturday, 23 November 2013

Paella Valenciana

Sofregit is the most important thing about Paella, says Javier, who is from Valencia and is very very proud about making it properly.
Because Paella Valenciana can only be made one way, with only a few accepeted additions and perhaps substitutions. There are some things that must never be added. Pepper? No. Onions? No! Chorizo? Run for your life!!! Definitely NOT!!!
So what does goes in and how is it done?


Javier has eaten Paella Valenciana ever since he was born, every Sunday. Now he lives here in the UK, but keeps up the tradition as often as he can.  He has cooked many Paella's in his life and everyone, he says is slightly different. But the basic principles are the same and very strictly followed.

The Ingredients:
1 small Chicken, cut into pieces
1 Wild Rabbit, cut into pieces
7 Pork Ribs, chopped into pieces (I used a Meat Cleaver to chop through the bones. I would recommended getting a Butcher to do this if you haven't done it before)
10 Duck Filets
(These are the sort of meats that are accepted to go into this Paella. Snails are sometimes added. A mix is great or any combination of the above)
ca. 900g Paella Rice (no precise measurement as you will see later)
ca. 250ml Tomato Passata 
3 Garlic, cloves, chopped and left with the Tomato Passata (as they will go in together)
1 large Red Bell Pepper, cut into strips
a selection of green Beans, French Beans,  Runner Beans, Mange Tout, Broad Beans (that sort of thing)
Sweet Spanish Paprika (not the smoked one!)
Saffron ...... or this orange Food Colouring which is apparently ok to use. 
(I strongly disagree, but Javier says it's too expensive to use Saffron. Well my readers, what do you think? He is being so particular about this dish and then he is adding a Food Colouring? We must do something!!!! Should anyone have a spare couple of grams of Saffron laying around and would like to donate them to my flatmate, please let me know and it will be a worthwhile cause and greatly appreciated.)
Olive Oil for frying 
Water 
A few fresh sprigs of Rosemary


I also made a simple clear stock from the bones that where over after dividing the Chicken and Rabbit into the pieces and persuaded Javier that it should be added to the dish. Believe me, it took some persuading. Usually it should only be cold water. But since there was nothing 'foreign' in the stock, just the animals that are part of the dish, and I didn't want to waste any of their flavour, the stock was accepted. Phew!

So we put a suitable size Paella Pan onto its Burner and Olive Oil is added. Javier sprinkles the Oil with Salt. That is the sort of thing I could see myself doing for no particular reason, but I forgot to inquire why exactly he seasoned the Oil instead of the meat.


All the pieces of meat go in together and start to fry. Javier stirs and turns everything over continuously.


After about 10 minutes the meat is brown all over. At some point during this frying Javier added the sweet Paprika, I wasn't looking and missed it... 'Javi, how am I supposed to write your recipe when you do things secretly???' 
He pushes the meat towards the sides and adds the vegetables. I had to fish out the Mange Tout from the mix, like Cinderella, as it is too delicate to start cooking at this stage and will be added a bit later.


We have now reached the stage of the all important Sofregit. At the bottom of the pan all this stirring and frying creates a crust with all the little bits that get brown and caramelised and produce all the good flavour. He takes his time during this stage and I cautiously take a very close look, worried that it may get past the caramelised stage and start to burn. But when he adds the Tomatoes with the Garlic, the smell is just so amazingly delicious all my worries are gone and I am just swooning over the pan.


After a few more stirs and turns my wonderful stock goes in, followed by a lot of cold water. How much water? Well enough to cover the meat generously, I'd say. The dreaded food colouring is sprinkled over at this moment. You remember how I feel about it? Please consider checking your cupboards, we must get the boy some real Saffron!

Even Javier is impressed with colour that the stock and water has taken on now. All that 'sofreigiting' has payed off.
This stage is basically creating its own favourful stock and cooking the meat, so it will take about 30-40 minutes. During this time the stock will reduce to about 3 cm low, from the bottom of the pan. 
Oh and the Mange Tout also went in at this stage.
It is customary to ask the guests, friends or family who are eating, to come and taste the stock at this point, to decide if there is enough salt. When everyone is happy, the rice can go in.


The trick is to draw a line straight accross the middle of the pan with the rice, then distribute is gently all over, and then take the pan by it's handles and chimmy it around, so that all the rice is covering the bottom of the pan evenly. The little interfering me was quite sure it needed a bit more rice. So I sprinkled in a little more. Javier probably was rolling his eyes behind my back.

From now on the rice needs 11 minutes to cook. So check your watches everyone! Javi turns down all the burners to minimum. The Pan can now not be touched anymore. No more stirring, no more adding anything, not even water, because the other very important thing, is to create the famous and much desired crust on the bottom. The Socarrat. To achieve this the burners are turned back to high for just a few minutes at the end. With a keen nose you can hover over the pan and smell the toasty aroma, when it is done.


 As the rice was soaking up the water and it threatened to be going too dry too quickly, Javier took a couple of large wet cloth kitchen towels and covered the whole pan up with these, to stop the steam from escaping and help cook the rice. This little rescue method is not a mistake as such, but needn't have to be part of the making and was probably my fault as I had added that little bit of extra rice. I am including it here though, because I think it is a 'good tip to know'.
Just before serving a few sprigs of fresh Rosemary are placed around the Paella. The aroma and flavour that comes off from these is quite unexpectedly delicious.

The Paella is now served like this: 
The whole pan is placed on a wooden board in the middle of the table. Everyone gets a spoon and a side plate for the bones. Sitting around the pan, everyone literally eats from the same pan. Just start in your little corner and work your way towards the middle. I absolutely love this way of eating best about this whole dish.


Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Cantonese Braised Beef

I was going to make a hearty Goulash when I ordered in my beef, but suddenly I felt like having a hearty Chinese dish instead. Here it is my Braised Beef Cantonese style.


Ingredients:
500g diced lean Beef
1 red Onion, sliced
5 cloves of Garlic, minced
1 inch of Ginger, sliced
1 stalk of Lemongrass
1 Cinnamon Stick
2 Cloves
2 Bayleafes
1 Black Cardamon
2 Green Cardamon
2 Star Anise
500 ml Chicken Stock
2 tbs Soy Sauce
2 tbs Shao Shing Rice Wine
1 tbs Oyster Sauce
A sprinkling of White Pepper


In a dry pan toast the dry aromatics (Cinnamon stick, Cardamon, Cloves, Star Anise) lightly. Add a tiny bit of Vegetable oil and toss in the sliced Onion. Cook gently until softened and turning slightly brown. Next add the Garlic and Ginger and stir until they are fragrant also.
This dish is a lot about smell. Let the aromas guide you to when the next stage is.


The Beef goes in next and is stirred just until it gets a little colour.
Finally all the other ingredients go in, bring everything to a simmer, cover and cook low and slow until the beef is tender, about 2-3 hours.
If you have a slow cooker this would be a great dish to use it for.
 

Serve over Rice or Noodles with some green Veg on the side. I actually waited until the next day to eat my dish as the flavours intensify and deepen overnight.
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