Archive for April, 2010

The other night I made paella for Edward and Sarah after being inspired in Spain. Having said that I pretty much did what I always do but with more confidence after being inspired in Spain.

Mixed paella in non-paella pan

Mixed paella in non-paella pan

I shopped in Borough Market for the ingredients and managed to get:

Calasparra rice

Calasparra rice

  • calasparra rice (use this or bomba rice for paella as the first choice if you can find it. If you cannot find a paella rice use a risotto one. Note that paella rice will absorb about 4 times its own weight in liquid.)
  • a small free-range pork fillet
  • large prawns
  • a swordfish steak
  • fresh chorizo
  • some veges including peppers, red onions and flat leaf parsley.

Sarah is pregnant so I stayed away from shellfish. The great thing about paella is that you don’t need to be too precious about the star ingredients. Whatever is around and looks fresh and good. And feel safe mixing meat and seafood (also known as a mixed paella). The trick is to get the base right.

Caroline’s paella

200-300g firm fleshed fish such as monkfish or swordfish [less if you are adding some pork or other meat]
200-300g pork fillet [optional: if you don’t want fish get a couple of fillets of pork
2 T olive oil
3-4 T olive oil
2 red onions, very very finely chopped
2 green pepperrs (capsicum), seeded and very, very finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon of fennel seeds
100-150g fresh chorizo (a couple of sausages)
250g calasparra rice
3T oloroso sherry (or other dry sherry. Or dry white wine if you are stuck)
900ml fish stock (or chicken stock if you are doing a meat based paella)
a very good pinch of saffron
1 teaspoon of smoked paprika
sea salt and cracked pepper
bunch of Italian flat leafed parsley
some other seafood, for example 6-9 large prawns (depends on size); and/or shellfish in the shell such as 6-12 mussells, a dozen cockles etc. [optional, depends on how much meat/seafood is in there already]

In your paella pan (or the widest frying pan you have if stuck), heat 2T of olive oil. Cut the fish into large chunks and lightly fry on all sides. Do not cook through. Tip fish and juices into separate container and set aside. If you are also cooking some meat (e.g. pork), reserve some of the oil and juices and then lightly sautee the meat. Do not cook through. Tip into bowl and set aside.

If you have prawns, either shell them, or de-head them now. It depends on your preference. Add them to the stock (fish or chicken) and bring to the boil and simmer for 5  minutes or so. Remove from heat. Strain and discard prawn shells and debris and return the stock to the pot. Add the saffron to the hot stock and leave to steep.

Add the remaining olive oil to the pan and heat. Add the onion and peppers and sautee gently on a medium to low heat for around 20 minutes until softened and partially caramelised. Add the garlic, fennel seeds and chorizo (if you are using it). Cook on low for another 10 minutes or so, stirring every now and then until the garlic is well softened.

If you aren’t adding prawns, bring the stock up to boil now then add the saffron and remove from the heat.

Turn up the heat under the paella pan to medium high and add the rice. Stir briefly to coat with the oniony mixture and cook for a minute or so. Add the sherry or wine and stir through. Cook for another minute. At this stage you can pause the process and restart around 20 minutes before you want to eat. Or keep going.

Add the stock and stir through the chopped parsley and the smoked paprika. In theory you can season at this stage but it is a very flavoursome dish so if in doubt leave the seasoning and offer people salt and pepper at the end. Add the fish and/or pork at this stage evenly around the paella, press under the rice. At this stage stop stirring! A paella is not like a risotto and does not require stirring to reach perfection. Ideally the stock creates steam channels through the rice and bubbles up to cook to perfection. This gets us to the challenging part of cooking a paella on a home stove. Ideally the entire paella pan is heated evenly (from edge to edge) underneath by hot coals, or another even heat source. In practice you end up straddling your 30cm paella pan over two elements and rotating it around to try and enable all bits of it to cook. Without stirring. So what I usually end up having to do is to rotate it periodically for about 15 minutes. And then finish it in the oven which should be preset to around 160C.

If you have prawns and/or shellfish – add these about 5 minutes before you deem the rice to be cooked i.e. at the point you are likely to stick it in the oven. Having had paella in Spain it should not be served uber soft. I would say that perfectly cooked is just a fraction more al dente than a risotto.So the point to add the additional seafood is where it still has a bit of bite to it and feels undercooked but kind of getting there (if that makes sense).The shellfish are cooked when they open up.

Remove from the oven or the stove top and serve direct from the pan. Offer people seasoning at this stage.


Read Full Post »

As a long term risotto@home kinda person I made a radical departure into paella maybe 18 months ago. It has become a much requested dinner party staple. My concern was that I hadn’t tried the real thing on its home turf. You always have a sneaking concern that you have the weightings of the flavours slightly out of whack, when you make a classic dish without the frame of reference of trying it in its country of origin.

I have never forgotten the expression on Sarah S’s face when she tried spaghetti bolognaise in Bologna. Outrage. The real thing is very subtle.

When in Barcelona we had very good paella at two restaurants. Can Majo came highly recommend by just about every blog, guide and online and print source we found. This meant that we were unable to get a reservation on the Saturday with our party of six.  Instead we went to L’Arròs in Port Vell which is the slightly more downmarket sister restaurant to La Gavina (also recommended), which is a bit more glam and right on the waterfront.

L’Arròs had a superb menu, very seafood focussed as you would expect but with a meat section for the non fish or rice eaters. The paella were split into seafood and meat. Everyone is served an individual portion direct from the paella pan. Unfortunately for 6 year old Alice (who is allergic to fish), they served a little amuse bouche meatbally dish when we arrived. There was much debate over whether this was chicken, pork, lamb (no!) or something else. It was obviously fish as Alice suffered the after effects some hours later. Delicious for the rest of us.

In the end three of us went for the swordfish, prawn and green garlic paella (below). I was yearning for the lobster or shellfish but given that I am still somewhat allergic to shellfish I figured this was foolhardy.

The paella was cooked to perfection. The fish was tender and delicious. The rice had a little more bite to it than I maybe do at home. Note to my friend Lulu who gnashes her teeth constantly about restaurants undercooking rice. However the subtle flavours of garlic, peppers, onion, smoked paprika, saffron and fennel – all came through.

Paella with swordfish, prawns and green garlic

Paella with swordfish, prawns and green garlic - selected by three of us

Paella with shellfish including scallops

Nick M's choice - paella with scallops

The next day Andrew and I had managed to secure a table at Can Majo. This place is likewise in Port Vell although on the other side. Can Majo is uniformly recommended with the only negatives being some digs at their service. When we arrived some 10 minutes late they were turning people away and looked baffled about the existence of our reservation. Despite Andrew spelling his name, something different had made it to the reservation book. I suggested that we use my name in Spain as Caroline is converted to Carolina as standard and there were fewer chances of mix-ups.

In the end they dragged in a table from somewhere and organised a place for it. I would definitely say that the service there is on the curt side. Having said that, I was feeling somewhat sympathetic for the owner / maitre’d. Can Majo is in a great spot and obviously gets a lot of people just trying for a table on the off-chance. Its reputation has also dropped it onto the tourist radar. The owner has the somewhat edgy air of a man who has created a great restaurant, found himself in the guidebooks, and is faced with a bunch of ignorant twits (I hate to say it – Brits) turning up to dine there. His attitude reminded me of the owners of Two Rooms in Miramar in Wellington with their infamous turfing out of a woman who arrived wearing too much perfume. And hence destroying the palettes of the other diners.

There were a fair number of locals dining there including what looked like an astonishingly well-heeled “Branjelina” family who turned up en masse with about 8 kids of every ethnicity in super designer clothing. Andrew and I were riveted. Eat your heart out Benetton.

Beside us were a couple of middle aged British woman who were attempting to send back their wine. The owner was called over and a scene kicked in. In essence they didn’t like their wine. It wasn’t off. They didn’t like it. They said it was too sweet and they wanted a dry white. The owner said it was the driest white he had. Meanwhile Andrew ordered a glass of Spanish sauvignon blanc. It was much more fruity with a higher sugar content than the NZ or French equivalents. Because Spain is HOTTER! Of course the wine tastes different in Spain (or France, or Germany, or Chile, or Greece, or New Zealand). The terroir is different. The weather is different. My view is that when travelling you take your chances with local winelists. If you are not familiar with the wine you just have to try it. Send it back if it is off. Buy another wine if you don’t like it.

So to the food. Superb. We had a couple of fishy tapas including teeny tiny fried fish. Very tasty. Even if Andrew did mutter that it was miniature fish’n’chips [minus chips]. Cretin.

The paella are for two or more so we were bound to share one. We went for a general seafoody one but in this case in broth which basically meant more soupy than your standard paella. What I like about the Can Majo style is that they bring the pan to the table to show you. Then it is removed and the messy business of portioning onto your plates is done on a table to the side. Plates are brought back with your paella. Plus the pan with leftovers for the most hearty appetites. I have to say I thought that Can Majo had the edge over the previous day.

Can Majo seafood paella in broth

Can Majo seafood paella in broth

And the leftovers…

And Can Majo leftover paella in broth

And Can Majo leftover paella in broth

I am cooking paella on Friday night so will be posting a recipe over the weekend. Kate B has already had a go at my generic base how to make a paella recipe. With much success I understand.

Read Full Post »

Kate G complained that I need more recipes in my blog about cooking.

Given that I am travelling at the moment, I am doing more eating out than cooking at home. This is the inverse of the ratio for back at the ranch in NZ.

One of my current favourite things to cook are tagines. A tagine is both a form of Morrocan stew; and the type of earthenware dish it is cooked in. Typically these are surprisingly simple dishes to knock up with very little prep work. A lamb or meat tagine usually involves cubing the meat, chopping and dicing things like onions, raw. Tossing the lot in a mixing bowl with a little oil and the spices. Then chucking it into a tagine, covering with water, and simmering for an hour or so till done. No browning. Nothing. The meat is super tender and delicious and I would usually serve with cous cous. You can use a deep, covered fry pan as I did last night.

However using a real tagine dish to cook this in does actually make a difference. The whole point is that the meat is braising and steaming. The high conical lid traps the steam in with the food and both locks in moisture and flavour, and speeds up the cooking. You do use the earthenware tagine on the stovetop although I confess I was a little nervous the first time I tried mine on my gas stove (see banner of the blog – that’s my stove!) I was convinced it would crack. What I do now is to start it direct over the gas and then put a simmer mat underneath to spread the heat more evenly.

So last night I whipped up a monkfish tagine last night for Edward and Sarah which was delicious. It was a bit more elaborate in process than my standard lamb one. And I had to compromise and do it in a large pan not a tagine.

So just for Lady G, a recipe: here it is.

Monkfish tagine

Chermoula ingredients (kind of a herby, spicy paste which gives the Moroccan flavour).
2 garlic cloves
tsp course salt
2 tsp of ground cumin OR toast your own seeds and grind your own (what I’d do at home)
1tsp smoked Spanish paprika
juice of a lemon
small bunch of fresh coriander, roughly chopped
1T olive oil
The rest of the ingredients
900g monkfish, cut into good sized chunks [if you cannot get monkfish ask your fishmonger for something solid that will hold its texture and shape in a stew or curry]
15-20 small new pototoes, scrubbed or peeled (I imagine you could use 3-5 larger ones in winter and slice)
3-4T olive oil
4-5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
20 cherry tomatoes
2 green capsicum, grilled until black, skinned, seeded and cut into strips
large handful of black olives
about 100ml water (I used boiling water and added a pinch of saffron)
salt and pepper

The chermoula:  using a mortar and pestle, pound the garlic with the salt to a smooth paste. Add the cumin, smoked paprika, lemon juice and coriander and grind some more. Don’t fuss if it is still a bit leafy. Mix in the olive oil to emulsify slightly. [If you don’t have a mortar and pestle – don’t panic. I didn’t realise Sarah had one till too late last night so had a crack at seriously tiny chopping of the garlic etc by hand which seemed to work fine. I then just mixed it all together.]

Toss the monkfish chunks in a bowl with about 3/4 of the chermoul and reserve the rest. Leave the fish for about an hour to marinade.

Par boil the potatoes in salted water for about 10 minutes, until slightly softened. Time it! Drain, refresh under cold water to cool, drain again. Cut in half lengthways and lay on the base of your tagine or heavy based shallow pan.

Meanwhile heat the olive oil in (another) small heavyish pan and add remaining garlic until just starting to colour. Throw in the cherry tomatoes and toss around a bit till starting to soften. Add the remaining chermoula and the peppers and toss some more for about a minute. You can season this mixture with salt at this stage – or leave people to season their own one it is served. It is pretty flavoursome anyway.

Now assemble the tagine: layer 3/4 of the tomato mix onto the potatoes. I add cracked pepper at this point. Layer the fish onto the tomato mix. Then add the remaining tomato mix to the top plus the olives. Add the 100ml of water. Finally drizzle the tagine with a little extra olive oil. Cover the mixture and simmer on low to medium depending on your stove for 15 minutes or until the fish is tender and cooked through.

Serve with fresh crusty bread to mop up the juices.

A photo is coming. My camera was flat so Edward used his and will forward it to me. He got a bit carried away with the posing of the food so Sarah and I just dug in and got on with it.

Read Full Post »

One of my favourite things to do in just about any place in the world is to visit the local farmers or produce markets. I am as happy inspecting an unglamorous produce market hosted in a car park with the wares sold direct out of the trucks or trailors, as I am with the exotic markets in Asia or the gorgeous produce displays found in Europe.

Every now and then there is one that causes me to lose the plot and cast around wildly for my favourite le creuset pan and best cooks knife.

I don’t care if the La Boqueria Mercat in Barcelona might be deemed a tad touristy with its location bang off the side of Las Ramblas. It’s lush and gorgeous. And filled with locals purchasing their dinner.

La Boqueria is very much based around food and contains the full range of local Catalan and Spanish artisanal wares (Jamon, cheeses, olives); through to the freshest seafood, great fruit and veges, and some rather daunting displays of meat. Not a lot seems to be wasted in this country so displays of trotters and heads were alongside glorious racks and roasts.

The photos…

Nick M gave me a lecture on different types of jamon and I duly purchased the prince of ham – the jamon Iberico bellota (pigs fed at least 50% on acorns).

Jamon! Hand sliced with no machine.

Jamon! Hand sliced with no machine. An absolutely lethal looking machete. What's nice is that the poor quality offcuts are turfed out and you aren't charged for them.

Not for the fainthearted.

Not for the fainthearted - no part of the animal is wasted.

Glorious seafood

Glorious displays of seafood

I suffered a real pang when I saw the displays of salt cod. You simply cannot get it in New Zealand but it is very much a staple of many Spanish recipes. I was trying to work out if there was any way I’d be allowed to bring a piece back home.

Salt cod

Sigh. Salt cod

The egg before the chicken?

I have never seen a free range egg display where you could select the eggs based on the breed of chicken (or type of bird).

And loads of glorious fruit and veges on display. Nick M bought 1KG of juicy sweet strawberries for about 4 euro.

Nick M and Ollie

Nick M and Ollie buying strawberries

Fruit and veges

Fruit and veges

And last but not least…


Chocolate. We didn't buy anything as we were too overwhelmed

In the end we bought jamon, cheese, olives and strawberries to have over drinks in the evening.

Read Full Post »

I was in Barcelona for a very important purpose. My friends Chan (Sri Lankan) and Neasa (Irish) – both New Zealand residents – were getting married in the obvious Kiwi-Asian-Gaelic location. Barcelona.

Chan waiting

Waiting for Neasa


Neasa and Chan - the bride and groom

The wedding ceremony - outside

The outside venue for the wedding ceremony

The wedding music courtesy of Neasa's friends

Neasa's Irish friends play the wedding music

The wedding venue - inside

The wedding venue - inside

The musical bride

The musical bride

Strictly speaking this was a blessing only as the legalising ceremony was in New Zealand before I left. Their wedding deserves special mention in a foodie blog due to the quality (and quantity) of the food. Two words. Lavish. Delicious.

One of my pet gripes with weddings is that guests are often abandonned for hours after the ceremony with nothing but glasses of bubbles for sustenance. The bride and groom scarper for photos while friends and family get hammered thanks to drinking on an empty stomach. Well prepared bridal couples sometimes ensure canapes are passed around at this time. Given that canapes are priced per piece the general ratio is 3 to 4 per guest. Or several mouthfuls for the more Survivor-like guests; and nothing for the rest.

Not at this wedding. Copious quantities of tapas were served with Cava (Spanish bubbles). Tapas ranged from tortilla (like a Spanish frittata with eggs and potatoes) to fish croquettes to small Spanish meatballs with caramelised onions.  When the formal ceremonies recommenced the troupe of guests were relaxed and with the edge taken off.

Tapas were followed with a buffet featuring paella, confit duck braised in port wine with pears, and a luscious salad with grilled goats cheese. And this was just a corner.

Things really got out of hand with the desserts. Neasa and Chan were obviously unable to shortlist out of the mouthwatering options of classic Spanish desserts, pastries, chocolates and more. So we got everything in tiny pieces in multiple courses. My table had the inspired thought to each have one of everything. And were floored when we discovered that the options kept being refreshed. Completely done in we were faced with the daunting prospect of the wedding cake. A chocolate, truffle, mousse cake. Each.  I feel slightly queasy remembering choking down a corner. Because I had to. Because it was so delicious.

The dessert - second course

Second round of the dessert

The above is a compliment to the bride and groom. It takes a lot to out cater me and I officially concede to being done-in by the wedding feast. Viva Barcelona. And all my love and best wishes to Neasa and Chan. Should you choose to reconfirm your vows in Barcelona anytime. Count me in.

Read Full Post »

I had an absolutely superb few days in Barcelona which is now officially one of my Favourite Places to go in the world. For a total foodie, Barcelona is paradise. And ridiculously gorgeous and quirky and interesting and historic.

It is testament to Barcelona’s charms that I was able to recover from an attempted theft of my wallet by a pickpocket on the metro when arriving from the airport. Fortunately an old lady witnessed the theft and grabbed the pickpocket by one arm and belted him over the head with her handbag using her other hand. I got my wallet back. Feeling somewhat shaken I dragged Andrew off for a tapa and glass of red wine at La Vinya del Senyor, a bijoux little wine bar overlooking the church of Santa Maria del Mar.

La Vinya del Senyor

La Vinya del Senyor opposite Santa Maria del Mar in Barcelona

This place came well recommended by our usual arsenal of paper and online guides. And was located by Andrew’s iPhone.  It has a comprehensive and astonishingly good value wine list include a fair number by glass. Wine is so cheap in Spain that most places tend to offer a house wine only or no more than one or two wines by the glass. People just order a bottle and leave what they don’t drink.

We had a Gago 2007, from Toro; and a Gran Caus Negre 2002, from Penedes. Both were very lush however we both preferred the former.

For tapas we had a few olives; patates al oli fumat amb pimenton de la vera; and canalons de rostit amb oli ceps. The second was pretty straight forward. New potatoes in some form of smoked olive oil with smoked paprika dusted over. Simple and delicious. Lord knows what the second was. I have tried several online translators all of which drew a blank. The closest description is:

  • kind of a pate-ish mixture (very tasty) in a sort of sausage skin but open on each end
  • looked like pate in a Vietnamese spring roll wet rice paper wrap.

I shall ask Sergio. My sister in law asked if this was the online Spanish version of “Ask Jeeves”. It is not. Sergio is a Spaniard who used to work as part of my team!

Andrew enjoying a tapa

Andrew enjoying a tapa

We were joined at the bar by the Prebble-Markwells en famille from Stockholm. Super to catch up with friends in fabulous places. And enough to drive the purse snatcher from front of mind.

And finally a photo of the church…

Santa Maria del Mar

Santa Maria del Mar

Read Full Post »

At short notice my brother and sister in law organised a long weekend in France for Easter weekend. Everything was swimmingly on track right up to the point we were queuing in the car ready to board the Seafrance ferry on Good Friday. The Seafrance crew called a short notice strike. Andrew sorted out a new booking for us on the Norfolk Line and it ended up taking us nearly 11 hours door to door by the time we arrived in Montrieul-sur-Mer.

M-s-M is a dear wee French town in Normandy, very near Calais and a key stop for the mail coach between Calais and Paris in the pre car / train era. This town impressed Victor Hugo so much in the 1835 that he made it one of the settings in Les Miserables. For a short period Jean Valjean was the mayor of Montrieul.

Apparently Norman food is known for being:

a) based on good local produce (true)

b) creamy (also true)

c) saucy (likewise true)

d) pretty rich and substantial (definitely true).

What I would also add is that:

e) it is also very heavy and cooked to within an inch of its life. And everything on your plate has a sauce on it.

Edward, Andrew and I had lunch on Saturday at Le Darnetal which is a very traditional local restaurant. I personally found it very tasty yet somewhat overwhelming. The kind of food where you want to nap for the rest of the day afterwards.

We all ordered one of the three course set menus.

Edward and I both had the Langoustines au Beurre d’Orange as a starter. I would describe this as teeny tiny, super fresh  langoustines in a puddle of orangy butter. Very tasty. The minor shock was some form of a mousseline in the centre. It was eggy and very slightly fishy but fairly tasteless. I could have done without it.

Langoustines au Buerre d'Orange

Langoustines au Buerre d'Orange

This was followed by Filet de Boeuf aux Duex Poivres, Setchuan and Mignonette (for Edward). You can translate this as two pieces of beef fillet each covered in a different creamy pepper sauce. And the Confit de Canard Rôti et Magrat Poêlé au Miel et Sesamé (for Andrew and myself). This was a very rich confit duck, with some roast slices of duck covered in a creamy gravy with sesame seeds in it.  Of the two I much preferred the beef which was tender and delicious and not quite as overwhelming as the duck.

Filet de Boeuf au deux poivres, setchuan et mignonnette

Filet de Boeuf au deux poivres, setchuan et mignonnette

We weren’t planning on dessert but in the end couldn’t resist the Crème brulee and a Café Crème. I didn’t manage to make it through mine but it was pretty much what you would expect. Note the flatter ramekins used in France.

Le Darnetal creme brulee

Le Darnetal creme brulee

Overall I would say that the service was great. It feels very typically French. Go there if you fancy napping for the rest of the afternoon, not if you are after something light.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »