Archive | August, 2012

Sangria : the tapas tipple!

30 Aug

I have just realised that although I have quite a few ideas for tapas, one thing which we really must consider is what to be drinking whilst making said tapas. Cooking and preparing food always needs some form of tipple in hand, right? And what better tapas tipple than Sangria!?

The first drink PD and I ordered when in Barca was a sangria. We were later to realise that generally the only people we saw actually drinking sangria were tourists, and I hate looking like a tourist! The reason for this is because around the area sangria is really a cheap studenty punch – it’s supposedly cheap red wine laced with brandy or vodka, a potent punch sure you get you a bit squiffy. But what of the history? ‘Sangria’ comes from ‘sangre’ which means ‘blood’. When the Romans arrived in Spain around 200BC (I believe), not only did they plant loads of wonderful vineyards, but also were pretty hell bent on killing a bunch of people to get their land. Apparently they were quite fond of blood because when they started making wine out of the many red grapes, they thought it was only fitting to call it sangria – blood. Nice. It was only a matter of time before they started adding some of the delicious fruits to the wine to make a nice fruity, alcoholic punch, and so sangria as we know it today was born. Most families and restaurants have their own recipes for sangria (and indeed, you can find white wine or cava versions too), so PD and I experimented a bit to find one which we enjoyed. This is what we came up with:     

  • 1 bottle cheap-ish red wine (we used a nice local Rioja)
  • ~500 ml ginger ale
  • ~400 ml sprite or equivalent
  • 1 lime sliced
  • 1 large orange sliced
  • 1 lemon sliced
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • loads of ice!


We didn’t add anything else as we didn’t have any to hand. I would perhaps have added a splash of brandy if we’d had some. I’d be more inclined to go for brandy as it would at least add a some flavour – vodka seems a little pointless unless you’re simply looking to get your mates completely squiddled and end the night with your head in the loo. You can also add a handful of pineapple or some mint leaves, or a dash of sugar (personally I don’t think it needs it, especially with the sprite). Simply mix everything together and serve it up! Experiment with the quantities, everyone has their own personal tastes. I intend to try out some more varieties myself…for research purposes only, of course…….  


Tapas – tomato bruschetta and ‘pa amb tomàquet’

28 Aug

Green eyes, clenched teeth and that unbearable feeling of suppressing the urge to throw one’s plate of food on the floor, stamp one’s feet and do a big “waaaaaaaaaaaaaah” until the person sitting opposite you at the table agrees to let you eat their food instead : food envy.

Now, I’m rather indecisive at the best of times, but when it comes to eating out at restaurants I really struggle. I want to make sure that I choose the best one, and that everyone wishes that they had chosen my dish. Not the other way round. In fact, sometimes I get so worried that the green eyed food envy monster might rear it’s ugly head that I choose exactly the same dish as PD when we go out for dinner. Now that I’ve seen that written down in front of me, I realise how sad that sounds. But all is not lost, for I have discovered TAPAS! The answer to my prayers. Now I can have a bit of absolutely everything (well, depending on the size of the tapas menu of course). I’ve heard many delightful stories about the origins of tapas, but one of my favourites is that it became illegal to sell alcohol in a Spanish establishment unless food was ordered alongside the drink. To solve this problem easily, people began serving up small pieces of bread along with the drinks, and gradually it became a little more competitive. Things started to appear on top of the bread. Suddenly there was a whole new way of eating, as different places began conjuring up increasingly spectacular bread toppings. Oh, and one of the other things I heard was that the little plate on top of the drink simply served to keep the bugs out. Who knows. Double whammy?

I’ll hopefully find a few nice little tapas dishes for you, but here’s one or two to start with. An incredibly simple one, because I’m tired, and I’ve just had my first day back at med school, and I snuck in a gym sesh (my first one after a long week of food, lazing and partying – you can imagine), and I forgot to take my contacts out and they sat in my eyes for sixteen hours and I can already feel my eyelids drooooooooping, and……..zzzzzzz……..

Okay. Tomato bruschetta.

One thing I love about the Med are the tomatoes. Deep red, perfectly ripe, wonderful aromas and delicious flavours, not to mention the ridiculous numbers of tomato types available. Tens, hundreds. SO MANY. I tend to stick with the normal-fit-in-your-palm-size tomatoes, they’re reasonably priced and I know how to tell whether they’re ripe. I like to squidge them a little between my thumb and forefinger. They should give a little but not be so squishy that if you dropped it on the floor it would become something resembling passata straight away. Smell them; ripe tomatoes have a wonderful smell. If you can’t smell the wafty deliciousness, it’s probably not ripe yet. PD has a thing about storing tomatoes too – don’t put them in the fridge. I can’t remember exactly why, but I’ll check with him later. You can find decent tomatoes in the UK, it’s just a matter of searching for them, rummaging through various packets in the supermarket, and sometimes forking out a few extra pennies for the better ones.

I’m not even going to bullet point the recipe for this one because it’s that simple, but done well with nice ingredients, it is one of my favourite things to nibble. Especially when it’s too hot to eat a full meal, or you’re just not that hungry, or you just need a little late supper whipping up, or you just want a nice starter to serve up to keep people schtum whilst you work on the main course.

Tomato Bruschetta
For two people I use two goodly palm-sized ripe tomatoes chopped up relatively small (so that they’ll fit nicely onto a piece of bread), a jolly good drizzle of olive oil (because you know that one of the best bits is dipping the left over bread in the left over olive oil), some salt and pepper, and if you have some handy – a sprinkling of dried herbs (like oregano – yes I know it’s probably more Italy than Spain, but it’s yummy). Cut up a fresh baguette diagonally – as this gives it a bit more length and space to pile tomatoey goodness on top – and gently toast both sides under the grill. Simply serve the toasted baguette with piles of the tomato on top. Sounds too simple to be true, but it is GOOD. Believe me.


‘Pa amb tomàquet’

There’s an alternative to this called ‘Pa amb tomàquet’ which is the typical way bread is served in Catalonia. In this style any bread is used, and again it’s gently toasted. A clove of garlic is rubbed onto the bread, a tomato is halved and the juicy side rubbed roughly over the garlicy bread until it’s well and truly coated, followed by a drizzle of olive oil over the top of it all. In some places, the tomato, garlic and olive oil are whizzed up together to form a paste, and this is spread over the bread instead. Again, it’s really tasty with a sprinkling of herbs. And a nice, chilled glass of cava. 


27 Aug

Sorry for the lack of posts peeps, I’ve been on holiday to Barcelona and been busy sampling loads of delicious Spanish food! I’ll update you as soon as I can, got some great ideas for easy, healthy tapas x


A good tipple

17 Aug

I don’t normally review wines, I know, but I’ve not been cooking anything new and exciting, so the kitchen has been rather quiet whilst I get ready for our ‘relaxing’ trip to Barcelona…….cue emptying all drawers/cupboards/storage spaces hunting for passports and lost euros, spending the morning in A&E because of a terribly painful ear, trying to find a new bikini in three hours and losing hope when the only five shops near me are completely sold out and only have mismatching tops/bottoms in completely the wrong sizes (can I go to Barca with no bikini?) and having to splurge on the only one I can find because, well, it’s the only one I can find, cycling frantically back home to empty desk drawers/filing cabinets to try and find all car details necessary to cycle frantically to the parking office to buy parking permits for the new car, to cycle frantically back home again to check in for flights and make sure all is ready for our early am departure, to double and triple check that the taxi company will definitely wake up in time to come and pick us up to take us to the airport, and ‘can I really get everything in a bag for under 20kg??’, and the upsetting realisation that I don’t actually have a suitcase to pack any clothes into so I may well look like bag lady when I turn up to the airport tomorrow morning, and THEN PD tells me that the boarding cards I have just printed out say that our flight left TODAY. Not tomorrow, TODAY. As in, THIS MORNING. Then came the wobbly lip as I nearly burst into tears, and he rushed over to tell me that he was joking. Ha. Ha. Ha. NOT a good time for pranks. So he has now poured me a glass of wonderfully chilled white wine and I am taking a little bit of time to write this and let the wine work its magic to relax my pre-holiday stress levels.

And this wine is good. So I thought I’d share. Just in case you’re ever in the same situation and need a nice little tipple. 

I don’t really like sweet white wines unless it’s going alongside a dessert, and even then I can only take a little. I much prefer slightly drier whites, but it’s often difficult to find a white which excites me but which also doesn’t burn a hole in my pocket. This bottle comes in at around £8-9 from Majestic, or £6.99 per bottle when buying two. At that price, I’ll have two please. It’s ‘The Ned Black Label Waihopai River Sauvignon Blanc 2011 Marlborough’, and it actually won a decanter trophy this year for being the best New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc for under £10. The tasting notes suggest that it has a ‘nose of nettles and grass which lead to generous gooseberry flavours with a smoky herbal twist on the palate.’ There is also apparently added complexity from a ‘subtle gun flint minerality’. Personally I get hints of grass and grapefruit on the nose, with zesty, warm tones on the palate, filled with notes of pineapple, gooseberry and yes, a touch of grass and herbiness. I don’t know what flint tastes like so I can’t vouch for that one, I’m not often in the habit of going around and licking rocks, but perhaps I ought to from now on to improve my tasting notes? If you’re looking for something a bit more complicated than your average sauv blanc, something easy on the purse and definitely enjoyable, I’d definitely recommend trying it out. Do let me know what you think. It would go really well with a light salad or light, lemony seafood I reckon. Or just on its own, when you need a little glass of something to bring you back to that holiday mood, once you’ve found the passports and the euros, and you’re feeling somewhat reassured that no, your flight did not leave without you this morning, and yes the taxi driver has a perfectly good alarm clock and will be at your door at 4.15am to pick you up, and that hey, it’s okay to chill out on the sofa with a glass of wine sometimes. Especially when it’s as tasty as this one.

Project Wedding Cake (iv)

13 Aug

I think I’ve cracked it. *happy dance*

After a good chat with my grandma and a lot of reading, I made the 12″. I doubled up the greaseproof paper within the tin and also tied a layer of greaseproof paper around the entire tin, to ensure that the cake didn’t cook too quickly on the outside (I decided on the greaseproof paper instead of the ripped up tea towels as I figured the prospect of setting my kitchen on fire was really just an additional stress I could do without). The cake turned out perfectly (160C fan for 1hr35min), and with my new exciting cake decorating tools it was just a matter of taking a bit of time to decorate it properly. I left the cake to cool overnight and then sliced it into three with the cake leveler. Never, ever will I try to cut a cake with a knife again! The cake leveler was excellent and the layers were pretty much identical in height. It was definitely worth the money.

In terms of frosting, I tried a new cream cheese frosting recipe which substituted some of the butter for shortening, and I’m pleased to say it firmed up fantastically. I wasn’t as impressed with the flavour as the previous frosting, but with the fondant and red velvet cake it tasted wonderful (my housemates can attest to this also: I waltzed up to them, shoved a spoonful of frosting into their mouths and then peered at them/interrogated them for a good ten minutes. They assured me that yes, it did indeed taste of cream cheese frosting). I did an initial crumb layer and refrigerated the cake for a couple of hours, and then did the top layer. I tried to get the frosting as smooth as possible, and it really did make a difference when applying the fondant. Even my friend ACW said that it looked professional *gleeful clap*!

Then for the huge test…….fondant refrigeration. Eek! The cake board I had made (DIY job again!) was too big to fit in the biggest box I had, so I ended up putting the top of the cake box over the top of the cake, on the cake board (hope that makes sense). Then I wrapped the whole lot in clingfilm, placed a little pot of bicarbonate of soda inside, and tried my best to forget about it. This was pretty difficult because every time I opened the fridge a massive white box taking up the entire centre shelf of my fridge stared back at me. But I resisted…like those little impatient kids at 5am on Christmas morning when they KNOW that Santa’s practically comatose after drinking the sherry left out for him (plus a bit more from the alcohol cabinet), and the presents are just sat there, staring at them from under the tree looking so sparkly and perfectly wrapped. It’s NOT easy to hold back from ripping all of the paper off to find out what’s inside.  So I went out with my parents. The box was safer without me in the house. On cake day I took the whole lot out and let it come to room temperature for around six hours before touching ANYTHING! This was even more difficult than leaving it in the fridge. I can only liken it to those cruel psychological tests that people do to children, where they put a plate of marshmallows in front of them and tell them not to eat them, then leave the room. If all this effort wasn’t going to pay off, I think I’d scream. Drum roll please……..annnnnnnnnnnnndddddddddddddd……………..


Words cannot describe my happiness. There was a tiny bit of condensation on the cake but it wasn’t noticeable unless you were looking for it. Interestingly, the fondant bow which I had made was more affected than the rest of the cake, but as I’m not making any decorations out of fondant icing for the wedding cake I’m going to relax. Actually, it added a little bit of a nice shine to the bow, so I could even go so far as to say it was tactfully planned. Every cloud, and all that.

So I’m feeling a lot more confident about the whole thing now. I still need to figure out a way to get the stacking perfectly level as this cake was a lone tier, but I’m confident that with a good ruler and a sharp set of cable cutters (I never for one minute ever thought I’d be sourcing these things for baking) I might be able to get it just right. I’m also considering buying a spirit level, but I’m wondering whether that would just be taking perfectionism a little too far?

Super quick and tasty marinade

11 Aug

For when you need to whip up a speedy marinade, this is one which I made up to go with our BBQ yesterday. Thankfully it seemed to go down really well! It’s great with chicken, but I also used it with some of the left over pork fillet too. Yum, easy and superduper quick. Winning combo!

– 12 chicken drumsticks
– 75ml light soy sauce
– Thumb sized piece fresh ginger, skin removed and grated
– 3 cloves garlic, crushed
– 1tsp Dijon mustard
– Generous squeeze honey (around 3 tbsp)
– 4 tbsp rapeseed oil
– A few grinds black pepper

Mix everything (apart from the chicken) together in a bowl and add the chicken. Turn to coat, cover and leave to marinate in the fridge for a few hours. You can turn the chicken a couple of times to make sure the marinade is getting the best chance, and use a brush or spoon to baste the chicken during cooking. Delicious! If you make too much marinade, simply stick it into a clean jar and pop it in the fridge. It should last for a couple of days.

Asian style mustard pork with pak choi

11 Aug

Oh dear. I was really not impressed with this recipe – the portion sizes and the cooking times were way off. The recipe calls for 300g pak choi, which is supposed to be enough for four. I used 200g for three, and realistically you’re going to need at least 400g to feed four, especially as it is the only vegetable in this dish. Next time I would definitely do some more vegetables, pak choi just wasn’t enough. On another note, I  also stir fried the pak choi with garlic and a tiny bit of crushed chilli – it’s not the most interesting otherwise!

IMG_2374The marinade however was actually quite tasty, so I’m still going to post up the recipe. Personally I would have preferred the marinade with chicken and served with rice, it’s almost more curry-esque; this meal really was disappointing other than the marinade. If anyone has any other good recipes for pork please do let me know – the only pork recipe which PD and I have found and which we really enjoy is Chinese pork (hoi sin base), so I’ll post that up soon too. It’s delicious!

Recipe (serves ‘4’…realistically will only serve 4 if you’re providing about double the veggies!)

  • 4 pork filletsIMG_2375
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped
  • 2 tsp 5 spice powder
  • Juice and zest of 3 limes (or lemons)
  • 60g mustard
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 300g pak choi (more, more…MORE!)
  • 1/2 tbsp soy sauce

1. Season pork with salt and pepper and put into a big flat baking dish. Mix thyme, 5-spice, mustard, juice and zest of limes and one tbsp oil. Pour over pork and allow to sit for at least one hour in the fridge.

2. Heat a grill or frying pan to med-high and cook for 10-12 mins (note: depending on the size of your pork fillet you may need to adjust the cooking times, mine was a regular medium sized filled and I felt it was slightly over cooked at ten minutes) turning once half way through cooking.

3. At the same time, heat a little oil in a pan and cook the pak choi for 3-4 minutes until wilted (personally I like to cook the white part of the vegetable for a little longer than the leafy part, so I separate the two before cooking). Toss with the soy sauce, season with salt and pepper and serve along with the pork.