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Archive for the ‘Summer’ Category

I read Nigel Slater religiously for years, but of late this gastro hag’s favourite fag has me feeling like an asylum seeker on the wrong side of a razor-wire fence.  Sophisticated as my crowded corner of Blighty sees itself, it’s outside the orbital, pretty far from any gastro-shopping epicenter and a long way from urban allotments.

Sure, I check out the local farmers’ markets, and yes, I visit local farm shops, but even so I lack access to the exotica veggie cornucopia enjoyed by a Londoner and moreover I’m a plod, so hauling my ass up to New Covent Garden for 6 am just ain’t gonna happen, and a train ticket to Borough market would up my grocery bill by a good twenty quid; not to mention supersizing my carbon footprint.  So what’s a gourmet girl to do?

A: Visit Waitrose and find these emerald gems to go home with. Frying tonight!


pic and recipe to follow….gotta cook and eat ’em first

200g bag £2.99 at Waitrose

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With all his snuffling and grunting this man is really growing on me but he does keep telling porky pies.  Microwaved bacon sandwich?!? he does have the grace to say it “should  come out nice and crispy”, but I can tell you now it doesn’t.  I happen to know this because my mum, a reluctant cook at the best of times, has done it thus for decades and I still can’t bear the floppy dishrags produced that way.  Mind you, she does buy wet cure bacon then goes on to make her sandwiches in not a panini toaster, nor a George Forman grill, but the original, ’70s modern miracle sandwich toaster – its non-stick surfaces coated with three decades’ worth of rancified margarine, also apparent on its not-very-cleanable exterior – which doesn’t exactly add to the appeal.

original sandwich toaster
original sandwich toaster

(more…)

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interior of Cafe Baixamar, Mahon de MenorcaCall me weird but I just don’t like it when my waitress takes such obvious offence at any punters daring to invade her erstwhile empty restaurant.  I understand her feelings; years of food service taught me there’s nothing so intrusive as a damn customer when you’ve just gotten used to a bit of solitude.  But those same years – and basic economics – also taught me to stand up & snap out of it, smile brightly and serve politely: as they say, it’s not rocket science – the pay’s better.

Our handy AA Twinpack guide recommended this place for its atmosphere but I doubt it intended the ambiance generated by a blasé bint who was too patently, petulantly cool to be bloody bothered by bloody customers and at lunch-time, at that: 1.45pm, 1345 hours.

In what way was it our fault there was no chilled cava?  ¡¿¡¿No chilled cava!?!?  And was this girl cronies with the (frozen) calamari?  Planning a painting of the (tinned) pimentóns piquillos?  Dating the (possibly pre-packaged) tortilla española?  We felt obliged that despite her simmering resentment our waitress brought anything at all, for not one thing was removed on her return to bar stool, tabletop disappearing beneath debris the while. (more…)

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Thunderclap followed by dramatic downpour started our first full day with a bang and skewered all tanning plans – but what on earth to do in a vacation-villa ghetto with no sunshine?  There’s this:
Rainy day on holiday
or the teeming toddlers’ activity club (no pics natch) but I’m not short enough, so once the clouds had shed their motherload we plodded north to Ciutadella. The 2km walk was slower but more interesting than taking a bus as we got to smell the landscape and discovered this domestic scene.Domestic pigs in Menorca
That’s daddy pig in the foreground (¡cuales cojones!), separated from his wife, girlfriend and countless scurrying offspring (those little shapes in the background) by a sturdy wall.  Everything in the compound had acquired a uniform ruddiness from the red earth in which they snuffle so they’re hard to spot (no pun intended).
Ciutadella Town Hall atop harbour wall
Like a corny movie, sunshine broke through as we arrived at Ciutadella harbour and the unmistakably Spanish scent of seafood and garlic a-sizzle in olive oil wafted on the breeze.   Strolling by a strip of restaurants nestling along the foot of the old city wall we noticed a number were recommended by our excellent guide book but didn’t fancy their uniform demeanour, nor sitting in the shade for that matter.Cafe Balear, Ciutadella, Menorca after our lunch
Just the other side of the bridge we spot Café Balear – set apart and empty.  None too promising, when all the other places are populated, but a seat in the sun and good reviews sits us down.  And then the real holiday begins: our waiter recites the appetizing menu del dìa; we pick cigale carpaccio and cod alioli for T; pimentos relleños and hake for me, and what a treat they turn out to be:
Carpaccio de cigalo at Cafe Balear, Ciutadella, Menorca
pimentos rellenos de bacalao at Cafe Balear, Ciutadella, Menorca
Cod with alioli at Cafe Balear, Ciutadella, Menorca
hake with potatoes and piquillos at Cafe Balear, Ciutadella, Menorca
I let these pictures speak for themselves, only adding that everything was spankingly fresh and flavoursome (pimentos obviously stuffed in-house) and the presentation perfect for my tastes – burnishing the alioli was an aesthetic nicety which I shall try at home. Ok, so I envied T his tasty extras: migas-stuffed tomato and a wee filo parcel of spinach with pine nuts and raisins but was happy with my hake and well satisfied.table on the terrace at Cafe Balear, Ciutadella harbour, Menorca
A bottle of crisp house white (Penedès again), perfectly chilled with ice bucket, stand and napkin allowed us to take our time; as we progressed through our meal the place filled up – to bursting – and we felt pretty smug to be watching people queue for a table.
People queuing for lunch at Cafe Balear
Don’t often do dessert but I’m never churlish if it’s included in the price, so ever authenticity-oriented I opted for almond cake over apple pie and T mentioned

you’ve had one crème caramel you’ve had them all

as his excuse for trying the same. Good choice, Canadian…
almond cake dessert at Cafe Balear

Service was laudably professional, efficient and friendly despite the fact the place was packed.  Highly recommended, but do arrive early or book ahead.

Menu del dìa: €17 pp  bottle house white: €10

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Great view, not such great food

Sa Nacra restaurant/bar, Santandria cove, Menorca, looking west
So we fetched up at Sa Nacra, a waterside bar/restaurant in (or on) Cala Santandria on both our first and last days in Menorca.  I suspect we ordered the wrong things, but I got the idea the setting is so perfect nobody feels they have to pay much attention to the quality of the fare on offer.  Talking about the wrong thing to order…

hamburger, sausage, egg & chips at Sa Nacra, Menorca…bless his heart; to the left we have hamburger, sausage, egg and chips in time-honoured transport caff greasy spoon style. It’s a good thing Mr T dislikes ketchup as there was none; just a cruet of salt & pepper, oil & vinegar. The vinegar’s always good in Spanish territory, though.

Having awakened at 3 am to catch our Balearic-bound sardine torpedo, T found it satisfying, surprising, but not exactly exciting. And being Canadian he was kind of expecting a bun…

platter of local sausages and cheese, Sa Nacra, MenorcaEyes right for another kind of surprise: my platter of local sausages and cheese(“s”) – before a bite taken.  No garnish, nor much generosity there.  Ah well, at top right two niggardly slices of queso mahon, and reasonably fresca at that because it was ok but bland. Gnawing clockwise, next lies salchichon, pink and slightly garlicky – Spanish salami. Then the most interesting item, morcilla; black pudding (or blood sausage if you must) – thankfully European-style so it didn’t taste like blood-soaked fruitcake, but subtly spiced and savoury; probably bound with rice and featuring the odd fennel seed to lift any heaviness.  Last of all comes sobrassada; essentially the Balearic version of chorizo – no mistaking that tell-tale orange-hue of paprika pimentón.  Good, but not a gastronomic highlight either.

pa amb tomat, at Sa Nacra, Menorca

For us francophiles the lack of automatic bread was a bit of a quandary – in Menorca we discover its presence is unpredictable – so, keeping true to my mission to eat local, I ordered another island speciality: pa amb tomàquet.  It’s supposed to be country bread toasted over a flame, rubbed with tomato and garlic and doused in olive oil.  Which it was, after a fashion, but you can take the country out of bread just like you can take bread out of the country.  Remember dutch crispbakes?  Squish a tomato into one of those and then take the tomato away – voilà!  Certainly edible on 3 hours sleep when washed down with a bottle of cherry-red rosado de casaPenedès I think; in a cooler bucket without ice so we were compelled to drink it fast to drink it cool: a far from odious chore in all that sunshine…

…and for us just arrived from chilly grey England the view was sheer delight: water so clear you can see all the way to the bottom, fish idling below, seabirds wheeling above, all eager for overboard crumbs.  view from Sa Nacra towards Santandria
In my enthusiasm for peering into the depths I tipped the bench and almost launched myself overboard – crumbs!  Rather wish I had though, as Sa Nacra is well-appointed with ladder up and out plus open-air shower, but preferred are plunges from their diving board.

his: €7.25 mine: €4.50 bread: €1.50 wine: €10

 

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Cala Santandria

You’d have thought that with all the plodding around I might have slimmed down a bit, but as there’s no setting out foot without gastro attached and with Spanish temptations tickling an ever-ready appetite, we ate fabulously, well and mediocrely; never badly : with some judicious shopping and despite the facilities even eating in was pretty good – and filling.

We brought back (and therein lie a few tales):

  • gin for the gent
  • a quarter ham (need a bigger wallet and suitcase for a whole one)
  • queso semi-curado
  • sobrassada
  • wild fennel
  • yema tostada turrón – already nearly all gone!
  • no tacky touristy belt but avarcas – traditional, practical leather sandals with soles made from used tyres – worn by the locals and totally eco-fab, baby.

Avarcas, or Abarcas; artisanal leather sandals from Menorca
 

A few things we learned:

  • Hispanic ham & Iberian eggs are always good
  • Gin is not always good
  • mayonnaise comes from Mahón
  • prickly heat strikes suddenly
  • Menorca is a blissful Balearic alternative to party-hearty Ibiza – hardly a teenage tourist in sight
  • Menorca is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve – wild flowers and plants get to do their own thing, birdies are protected, developments restricted and it’s all the better for all that
  • Menorca has 216 km of coastline and 14 000 km of dry stone walls
  • if you know a bit of French or Italian, you’ll get by in Menorquí (or use Spanish!)
  • earplugs and a compact umbrella are travel essentials

We sniffed out the quietest piglets on earth the other side of one of those dry stone walls and perched on tip-toe to say hello every time we plodded by en route to the DISKONT supermarket or Ciutadella.  This is one of their mothers.  I waited for her to stop tinkling before taking a snap but she just didn’t; good for her.

 Ciutadella Sow, Menorca

I only wish I’d known Mahón (that’s Maó in Català) airport has a jamón bar next to Departure Gate 16 before I purchased my (admittedly fairly delish thanks to the piquillo peppers and olives) tuna mediterraneo baguette: a platter of Ibérico ham plus a couple of glasses of Rioja would have made a preferable adiós, amigos, but the silent T had already joined the queue at Burger King for his bacon-double-cheese fix so I perused the shopping selection and sighed.  Well, at least it wasn’t McD’s.

There’s plenty more to tell but I must gather my thoughts, edit my pics and do my laundry.  Give me a day or two; until then, hasta la vista…

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Gazpacho, Spanish summer soup
Sorry folks – no new posts for a short while as I’m off to a (we hope) quiet corner of the Balearics.  Following a bit of research on its gustatory specialities this is what I’m hoping to plunder:

  • hierba for the lady
  • gin for the gent
  • a whole ham for slicing
  • queso Mahón for dicing
  • sobrasada for the larder
  • wild fennel for fish & products porky – ubiquitous on Ibiza but Mr T threw out my fagot, damnit

and while I’m there I’m looking forward to eating ensaimadas, scoffing coca and tucking into tons of tasty tapas and if I have the time, finding a handsome leather belt (not for eating). 

I’m not lugging my laptop there and back – we’re on a charter flight for heaven’s sake – so comments will have to bide their time until my return.

In the hope that the sun shines brightly enough to make a lycopene boost imperative, I bring you my easy yet delicious version of:

Gazpacho
modified from Paula Wolfert’s version in her Mediterranean Cooking
(a terrific book now sadly out of print)Big Tom spiced tomato juice

  • 750 ml (1½ pints) tomato juice
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • ½ cucumber, peeled and chopped
  • 2 large ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • ½ clove garlic, peeled & microplaned (or crushed)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • ice cubes, salt & pepper

Pour 250 ml tomato juice into a blender; add the rest of the vegetables and buzz at high speed until smooth.  Pour into a wide shallow (preferably Spanish earthenware) serving bowl and use the rest of the tomato juice to thin down the gazpacho if necessary.  If it’s overpoweringly tomoto-ey add a few ice cubes instead.  Stir in vinegar and oil, season lightly and chill for a couple of hours. 

Check and adjust seasoning and oil/vinegar balance.  Serve annointed with droplets of good olive oil and chopped green and/or chilli pepper, spring onion or chives or coriander, croûtons and/or fresh bread on the side.  If the weather’s really hot (fingers crossed!) extra ice cubes will be most welcome.

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