We saw New Year’s Eve in in Barcelona in our usual quiet way – at home and with lots of amazing food! 31 Dec 2014 first started with breakfast for me and my brother at La Pubilla (Blai and I had a fantastic lunch there before) near the Mercat de La Llibertat. Tallats (espressos with milk) to start… … with pa amb tomàquet (excellent execution here) on the side while we waited for our main dishes. Their breakfasts are esmorzars de forquilla, or fork breakfasts, proper hearty, savoury dishes on a plate, as opposed to the usual handheld pastry most people have. We split salsitxa amb patates de forquilla (sausages with panfried potatoes) … … and ous ferrats amb terrina de peu i morro (fried eggs with a terrine made with snouts and trotters). Everything was brilliant, especially the very unique terrine (sliced and pan fried), with its mix of soft and crispy and gelatinous textures. These were my kind of breakfasts! This was a great start to these days of eating and I do want to explore more places for esmorzars de forquilla in Barcelona! The rest of the day was spent wandering and generally being a tourist. (This included a trip to La Boqueria on the request with my brother. I was dreading this visit and I had reason to dread it – the place was so absolutely packed with tourists, it was almost impossible to move. I do feel for the locals – I’m not sure how they manage to do any shopping there.) We were back at home with plenty of time to spare to the midnight countdown and what greeted us there was awe inspiring. Check out the table! There was even a trolley filled top to bottom with lots of other goodies. Blai’s mum really outdid herself! There were so many things to eat that it was almost overwhelming. There were even these platters of big red prawns grilled on the planxa … … and of her famous fried artichokes. As you can imagine, there were a lot of leftovers for the next few days! We ended, of course, with the twelve grapes for the new year’s eve countdown (that’s a fruit portion, right?!). On 1 Jan 2015, my mother-in-law also had grand plans for lunch! The over 100-year-old soup tureen was trucked out and filled with a golden broth of chicken bits and eggs. This was sopa de menuts, a Valencian soup of little pieces from the chicken – i.e. chicken offal and cockscombs – as well as chopped boiled eggs. To serve it, it’s poured over a toasted crouton at the bottom of the bowl. The broth is rich and meaty (chickeny?) and the bread gives a great additional texture to the soup. It’s a recipe she learned in Valencia from her own mother-in-law. Her second dish is now possibly her most famous dish… well, to me anyway! It’s her vedella, a Catalan style braised beef that takes two days to make and that’s just so utterly melt-in-your-mouth delicious that we cleaned the entire pan. And those were our New Year’s celebrations! How was your New Year’s Eve?
Mon, 12 Jan, 2015
Fri, 26 Dec, 2014
I’m in Leigh-on-Sea again and this time we’re at my brother’s place for Christmas. It’s the first time we’ve headed to another locale in the UK for the holiday season and we’re finding it all a bit novel – and it’s our first time being by the sea (uh…actually the Thames estuary) for Christmas! We’re enjoying our morning walks by the water.
Christmas Eve was a flurry of activity – all food shopping for the days ahead and then a seafood dinner. We had crabs with butter (an experiment with sambal butter didn’t exactly work out) …
… and one steamed sea bass …
… and two roast chili and black bean sea bass.
Rice and purple sprouting broccoli rounded out the meal.
Christmas Day started off with fried eggs for breakfast, fortification for a planned walk to see the remains of Hadleigh Castle. Unfortunately, the route turned out to be very muddy and we ended up walking around Old Leigh instead…which is where we discovered that most (or all) of the pubs in Old Leigh were open on Christmas Day! We ended up having tea there to warm us up before heading back to the flat.
The feasting at home started with pate and a baked camembert…
… and finished with a roast chicken, gratin dauphinois, pigs in blankets, and kale braised with onions, garlic, chili and anchovies.
Anyway, Happy belated Christmas to all of you! I hope your days have also been filled with lots of eating! And do keep warm with that cold weather alert on in the UK.
Tue, 23 Dec, 2014
Croydon Council and the Greater London Authority, along with the Portas Town Team, have opened Surrey StrEatery on, you guessed it, Surrey Street, a market street that’s existed in some form or other since the 13th century. It’s kind of like a food court, but with indoor street food stalls.
Seven street food stalls were invited/accepted to open in the building for half a year and there are also events and a good overall sense of community there. The seven stalls get promotion for the 26 weeks as well as general business support; I think it’s a brilliant idea to help out new local small businesses!
When I visited earlier this month, Christmas was in full swing at the StrEatery, with food hampers filled with goods from the stalls available for gifting. It was warm inside and it was welcoming; every stall radiated smiles.
The current stands there are:
- Cravings “La Carreta” – Mexican street food
- Mum’s the Chef – fresh wraps
- Olivier’s Bakery – bakery and patissserie
- Plumbun – cakes
- Ro Co Coffee – coffee
- Sannas Goan Street Food – Goan street food
- The Liquid Pod – soups, stews and smoothies
I grabbed a flat white from Ro Co (excellent) and perused the rest of the stalls.
That day, I opted for a bit of Goan food – for £5.50, I received a plate with Goan fish curry on a soft steamed rice cake, freshly fried vegetable bhajis, a lamb samosa and a bit of homemade carrot pickle. It was all brilliant – the curry was fabulous, the bhajis were crisp and not greasy, and the samosa had a great spicing to the lamb.
I really enjoyed my visit there and I can’t wait to get back in the new year to try the other stands. It’s definitely worth a visit and after you’ve had a good fill, you can pop outside and shop for groceries to take home too!
It’s open from Tuesday to Saturday, from 8am to 5pm each day. (Do check for Christmas openings!)
Unit 3 Bridge House
13 Surrey Street
Croydon CR0 1RG
Mon, 28 Jul, 2014
When an invitation to review a lighthearted novel about a Catalan chef who gets together with a mysterious Canadian, I first laughed – I’m Canadian and my husband is Catalan and ha, what are the chances of that. So yup, I thought I’d give my first book review a go. Unfortunately the Catalan chef was a right wanker while the Canadian struck me as a bit of a hippie so there’s really no real resemblance to us whatsoever (I hope!).
The novel is the first by Ada Parellada, a Catalan chef who’s based in Barcelona. She has opened a few restaurants and written a few cookery books but this is her first venture into the world of fiction. I wasn’t familiar with her or her restaurants prior to this so it’s my first introduction to her work.
As I mentioned previously, the novel focuses on a Catalan chef: Àlex. Annette, the Canadian with a secret, enters his life via a blogger friend (his only friend – remember how I said he was a bit unpleasant?) and works for him at his restaurant. Despite being critically acclaimed, the restaurant is on its last legs – Àlex refuses to cook anything other than foods native to Europe (yes, that leaves out tomatoes and potatoes) and there aren’t as many customers as there used to be. Annette’s arrival triggers a lot of events, the rebirth of the restaurant and there’s some love thrown in too. It’s a love story set in a restaurant background.
While descriptions of the food are brilliant, the plot is a bit jumpy and highly improbable. And it’s not the easiest to read as the text doesn’t always flow well but I’m not sure whether the fault lies with the author or the translator here. For example, there’s a literal translation of a word used in Catalonia on the first page: ‘Crisis’. In Catalan, ‘crisi’ refers to the current state of the economy and the translation doesn’t make this context clear. It just looks odd there on the page.
I guess it’s not exactly what I was expecting. If you’d like to read it for yourself, the book is available at all good booksellers. Thank you to Alma Books for the review copy.
Sun, 6 Jul, 2014
Are you all watching the World Cup? I’ll be honest – I haven’t been watching all the matches but I am following along. What I’m definitely doing rather than watch Brazil is eat Brazil. I was invited a couple weeks ago to a one-off Brazilian supper club, sponsored by Tilda rice and run by Rosana McPhee of Hot & Chilli, Dhruv Baker (you may remember him from Masterchef) and Luiz Hara of The London Foodie, at Luiz’s beautiful house. Tilda has a new limited edition Brazilian samba rice out for the World Cup and it would be featured in this meal.
We were ushered into Luiz’s patio garden where we were fed lots of little goodies (which I stupidly gorged on, not realising that we had a long menu ahead of us). Bolinho de arroz were fried rice fritters with seafood, served with lime and saffron mayonnaise – I adore all fried things and these were no exception. Gorgeous.
Little bite sized empadinhas had a flaky pastry and a palm heart filling. I’d always thought of palm hearts as a salad ingredient and never knew they were commonly used elsewhere.
Caracao de Galinha were an acquired taste – chewy little grilled chicken hearts!
And fresh from the oven were one of my favourite cheesy snacks ever, pao de queijo. These warm little puffs are made with tapioca flour which gives them an addictive chewiness. I had to stop myself from overindulging on these.
We then moved into the dining room to start the meal proper.
The tables had been set beautifully and at each place was a menu…
…as well as a ribbon! We all tied these wish ribbons onto our wrists, making the requisite wishes, and soon the food started coming out.
We had feijoada, that classic Brazilian black bean and pork stew, served with Tilda’s Brazilian Samba Rice, shredded greens, a slice of orange and toasted cassava flour for texture. Rosana’s recipe is delicious and it paired well with the rice. (I tried a bag of the rice from our goody bags alone at home and was surprised at how spicy it is.)
Moqueca was a Bahian stew with white fish, palm oil, coconut milk, tomato, onion, coriander and annato. It’s delightful and brought a welcome lightness to the meal.
Served with it was pirao de peixe, moqueca’s traditional accompaniment. This glutinous stew was made of fish broth, onions and herbs and cassava flour and I loved its starchy texture and great flavour.
Earlier that evening, we had watched as Dhruv grilled huge hunks of beef outside; the cut was picanha (rump cap), a very popular beef cut in Brazil. They had had plenty of time to rest and were now served sliced with pimenta de bico (those adorable tiny Brazilian chilli peppers), roasted garlic, and drizzled with manteiga de garrafa (Brazilian clarified butter). Yes, this was as delicious as it looks and sounds.
Starch came in the form of sauteed cassava and fried plantain, the latter being one of my favourite things to eat.
In addition, there was a beautiful palm heart, tomato and red onion salad to keep us all vaguely healthy.
We finished the meal with a trio of Brazilian desserts: caju sorbet (cashew fruit sorbet), brigadeiro de copo (the famous Brazilian chocolate balls but now in a cup), and quindim (a gorgeous coconut and custard tart). The caju sorbet was a revelation – the cashew nut hangs from the fruit and I’d heard great things about its flavour…and it lived up to it! It’s difficult to describe but if you get a chance to try it, do! The quindim was also absolutely fantastic.
The dinner was a fantastic Brazilian feast with lots of new flavours and dishes. Thank you very much to Rosana, Luis, Dhruv and Tilda Rice for the invitation! All my photos from the dinner can be seen in this Flickr album.
Sat, 28 Jun, 2014
I recently was invited to sample a cheese box from The Dairy Girl, Rachel, who offers a monthly cheese box subscription with lots of flexibility. Now, I’m not the biggest cheese eater but I do appreciate it, and this appreciation most likely increased since I’ve been with Blai as he loves it. He loves cheese and this opportunity to try new cheeses was not one to turn down. I’ve also been tempted to try one of these monthly box schemes (I’ve been sitting on the fence as to whether to try Birchbox).
Rachel travels the country visiting producers and discovering cheeses that she introduces to customers via her boxes. You can tailor the boxes to your preferences – different scales are available when it comes to blues, sheeps, hardnesses, strengths, vegetarian, etc. Of all that was available to me, I chose ‘Blue cheese – Not convinced, introduce me gently.’. I’ve never tasted a blue cheese I enjoyed; forgive me but I think they taste of mould and feet (which, of course, is exactly what makes it blue – the mould I mean, not the feet).
The courier delivery arrived on the day agreed. Nestled inside the box were these four cheeses as well as ice packs to keep them cool. Four cheeses – four generously sized cheeses that were going to last us almost two weeks.
We had plans the night we got the cheeses so they first went in the fridge until the next day, when we made the cheeses the main focus of our dinner, accompanied with bread, crackers, hams, dried fruit, nuts, a salad. What helped us that night were the cheese cards that accompanied the box – each cheese card describes the cheese, where it’s made, what it’s made, suggestions on how to serve it and what to drink with it. Very helpful!
Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire, made by Graham Kirkham in Lower Beesly Farm in Lancashire, was that crumbly rich cheese that goes well with strong pickles. A classic.
My nemesis showed up as a Badentoy Blue, made at Devenick Dairy in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. It’s a mild blue cheese so perfect for nervous losers like me!
See that little square below? OK, so this turned out to be my least favourite but that’s the square I managed to consume without gagging. To the cheese’s credit, Blai (a blue cheese lover) declared it delicious and he ate most of it!
What I really liked about the box I received was that while there was clearly a focus on UK producers, there was also a sampling of what’s best from the continent. A Délice des Crémiers from Burgundy, France was an amazing triple cream cheese that stumped us at first. When cold, straight out of the fridge, the cheese has the texture of … cold butter. And eating it cold made it melt like … cold butter.
The trick is to have it have room temperature when it oozes and is beautifully creamy. Do make sure to take it out of the fridge early!
Finally, there was the Rachel (this is the same name as the founder of The Dairy Girl – coincidence?), a washed rind goats cheese made by Roger Longman and Peter Humphries at Whitelake Cheese in Somerset.
This was our favourite of that box – it’s a very versatile cheese that’s good for both eating and cooking and had a mild, nutty, goaty flavour.
We actually worked it into a salad that night too.
For two people, cut up one or two large little gem lettuces, slice a flat peach and toss in some chunks of Rachel cheese. Extras that really work here (we tested it out the next day again) are dried cherries or cranberries and something quite crunchy like toasted seeds or croutons. Dress with only extra virgin olive oil and good balsamic vinegar. I think we almost cried when we used up all the Rachel.
Now, the cost. A box like this one (4 cheeses, about 900g in total) costs £24.95 + delivery. 3 cheese and 5 cheese boxes are also available. I think it’s a little more than you’d buy elsewhere but then I appreciate the fact that it comes to my door and that it’s a surprise every month (or so, like I said, you can tailor how often you’d like a box). And then Rachel also chooses cheeses to your preferences and provides lots of information on each one. All in all, I think it’s an excellent box.
Thank you very much to The Dairy Girl for the cheese box! Rachel has kindly provided readers of Tamarind and Thyme with a discount that will give you £10 off any monthly box (that’s a good deal!). The code (‘T&TCHEESE‘) can only be used once per address and must be used by 9 August 2014.