Leek and potato soup is one of my favourite soups of all time. For some reason I always have it in my head as being more fiddly to make than a hearty chicken and vegetable soups (which I make all the time for lunches in winter – and which take loads more time to slice and dice). In fact it is very straightforward to make and is absolutely delicious. In theory it can be served hot or cold. I have never been a huge fan of cold soups. It feels faintly wrong!

Don’t get super precious about exact quantities. Approximate is fine. Key thing is to roughly match the quantities of potatoes in leeks. And using a decent stock does make a difference.

Leek and potato soup with cracked pepper

Leek and potato soup with cracked pepper

4 leeks, leafy green tops removed, quartered legnthwise (then washed), sliced into 1cm dice
3 medium onions, roughly chopped
3-4 cloves of garlic, chopped
3T olive oil
3-4 bayleaves
1.5-2 litres of chicken or vegetable stock (I loathe cubes so either make it fresh or buy the fresh stuff in those plastic bladders)
potatoes – peeled and diced into small cubes, roughly the same weight as the leeks AFTER they have been prepared
1t salt
cracked pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large heavy based pan or saucepan. Add all the leeks, onions, garlic and bayleaves. Saute on medium to low for at least 10 minutes until the leeks are wilted and the onion and garlic are cooked and well softened.

In a stock-pot or very large saucepan, heat the stock until just boiling. Add the leek mixture and the potatoes. Cover and simmer on low until the potatoes are cooked to softened but not disintegrating. Season with salt and pepper. Remove the bayleaves! And blend in the food processor in batches to whatever smoothness you like.

Serve hot with any of the following: dollop of sour cream; bit of chopped parsley; some grated parmesan.

This soup does freeze well but you shouldn’t keep it indefinitely.


This is one of my staple “throw it together” pasta sauces. Generally whipped up when I have a crisis moment peering into the fridge and pantry. The recipe was inspired by one from the River Cafe but I tend to ignore things like the added cream etc which aren’t necessary.

I made this last night in order to take a meal to my friend Sue who has recently given birth to twins and is still in hospital. I have been absolutely appalled by the hospital food which all seems to look like boiled brown airline stew with overcooked peas on the side. No matter what it says on their menu.

It freezes very well so I will also be freezing her a couple of portions to reheat when she gets home from hospital.

The anchovies add richness and saltiness – but don’t give this sauce a fishy taste.

Tomato pasta sauce with rosemary and anchovies

3-4T olive oil
6 cloves of garlic, chopped
2T finely chopped fresh rosemary
6-8 anchovies, if you use the salted ones rinse them first
3-4 450g tins of Italian whole peeled tomatoes
1/2 cup grated fresh parmesan, plus extra to serve
salt to taste – optional, depending on how salty the anchovies are you may not require this

Heat the oil in a heavy pan. Gentle saute the garlic on low heat till softened but not turning brown and crispy. Add the rosemary and stir for a minute to infuse the flavour. Add the anchovies and stir them around until they are melted into the garlic mixture.

Tip in the tomatoes and roughly chop with a wooden spoon. Leave to simmer on low until the sauce thickens. Maybe 25-30 minutes. Add the half cup of parmesan. Serve with papardelle and extra parmesan.

I nearly used a most pretentious word the other day to describe my rhubarb crumble. On reflection I removed it from the description of my luscious, gloopy rhubarb because “unctuous” has always annoyed me in restaurant reviews. So I did some research.

What is it about “unctuous” and restaurant reviewers? It seems to be one of the words du jour for describing anything:

  • creamy
  • buttery
  • smooth
  • sticky
  • oily
  • gooey

And so on. This is what it really means, from dictionary.com:

  1. characterized by excessive piousness or moralistic fervor, esp. in an affected manner; excessively smooth, suave, or smug.
  2. of the nature of or characteristic of an unguent or ointment; oily; greasy.
  3. having an oily or soapy feel, as certain minerals.

Just what I feel like snacking on.

And here are some real-life examples of it being used by restaurant reviewers (and creative others):

  • “The Sauce Madère was as sticky and unctuous as it should be…” [review]
  • “Unctuous Beef and Leek Stew Topped with Cheesy Mash…” [review]
  • “… shepherded by the unctuous and principle-free David Cameron, ran a campaign based heavily on personality and a rejection of the ‘nasty party’ image …” [AOL Online]
  • “A few months later, Stark is fending off congressional hearings from a government (and unctuous rival arms developer Justin Hammer) eager to seize his suit, …” [review of Iron Man 2]
  • “… advising the White House or Congress on economics or national security and from unctuous, pompous bloviating on any legal subject on television.” [this is just great – I have to go look up bloviating.]
  • “… images of primroses and little lambs and fox cubs peering through the shrubbery, all accompanied by that unctuous, ecclesiastical chumminess, …” [review of Doctor Who. The new one.]
  • “Cut up, this liempo was fatty and unctuous, yet not ‘sumol’ or unpleasantly fat. It was a light tan color, clearly fully cooked, it had herbs spread evenly among the pieces and it was very tasty. It was a bit on the salty side, …” [this last was from an online restaurant review in Manila entitled ‘Battle of the bellies‘. Yes. Quite. I am not sure what the opponent was.]

So unctuous means oily and revolting. Sleazy and trustworthy. And is associated with politicians and arch villians. And strange Filippino food.

I am not sure I want to use it to describe my rhubarb crumble. Thank goodness I pulled myself back from the brink.

Apparently bloviating means “to speak pompously”.

Lulu is the only person I know who can contemplate setting up a woman about to give birth to twins (due at any minute, she is near full term) at a dinner party date at someone else’s house. My house. “Does he know she is pregnant?” I asked Lulu. “He likes kids,” was the response. He’d better.

To be fair she and John cooked the main course themselves. Whole snapper baked in the oven Asian style. John took a photo of the fish prior to being baked in the oven which I will post here as soon as I extract it. It was tender and lightly pungent with lemongrass, coriander, and chilli as some of the core flavours.

I had been leaning towards producing a beef rib roast with Yorkshire pudding followed by rhubarb crumble. Thwarted by the fishy main I still did the rhubarb crumble even though something like a lime tart would follow the fish a little better.

Rhubarb crumble is a wonderful, rich, hearty sort of rustic winter dessert. It is the kind of dessert you serve after a family Sunday roast as opposed to formal dinner parties. In my experience though, people love this kind of back-to-childhood food and it is always a hit. Nigella’s recipe is pretty straightforward. I tend to be a bit random with both the quantities of rhubarb (bit more if the dish is larger) and I usually double the crumble recipe as I don’t have any dishes that are 21cm in diameter and 4cm deep. My dishes are either larger or too shallow so I increase the crumble quantity and chuck it on.

Rhubarb crumble

1kg pink rhubarb to give at least 750g when chopped up into 1cm pieces
50g caster sugar
1T butter
1T good quality vanilla extract
1T cornflour
For the crumble topping
150g plain flour
1t baking powder
110g unsalted butter, cold and diced
3T vanilla sugar or ordinary sugar
3T demerara sugar

Preheat the oven to 190C, and put in a baking sheet to sit the crumble pie dish on.

Toss the sliced rhubarb in a pan on the heat with the sugar, butter, vanilla and cornflour for about 5 minutes until the butter has melted and everything oozed together.

Tip into a pie dish approximately 21cm diameter and 4cm deep. Increase the quantity of rhubarb if you are using a larger pan. You can do this in advance; and also make the crumble crumbs in advance as well and then assemble at the last minute when you are ready to put into the oven.

Put the flour and baking powder into a food processor (or use self raising flour and leave out the baking powder). Drop in the cold, diced butter and blast a few times till crumbs form like rough oatmeal. Chuck in the sugar and blast once to mix through. You can freeze the mixture or leave it in the fridge in a bag until you are ready to use it.

Assemble the crumble. Pour the crumble mix over the rhubarb. Place in the oven and bake for 35-45 minutes on the baking sheet.

Serve with cream, vanilla icecream, yoghurt or whatever you prefer.

Paella por Carolina

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.

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.

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.