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Category: side dish | appetiser

(Re)Discovering Rota, Spain & Costa Ballena {Arranque Roteño}

If someone would’ve told me years ago that Rota was worthy of being considered an international tourist destination, I probably would’ve looked at them with incredulity. It never occurred to me during all those years going to school on the Rota Naval Base that Rota was anything more than a little, sleepy agricultural and fishing town, situated in a strategic location for the Spanish and American military and the neighbour of my little Chipiona. Of course, I knew there was some sort of history there seeped in the stones of the old castle, in the walls of the main church, and in the rocks of the corrales. But from kindergarten through high school, I never really gave it much thought.

Rota for me, like for many other kids who grew up with me, was a beach playground and a place to go bar-hopping and disco dancing with friends. (Yes, I actually said disco.) And Costa Ballena, now a golf and residential resort, was where I used to hang out on a farm that belonged to family friends. A large portion of the land used for the golf course and the resort belonged to a cousin of the former King of Spain from the House of Orleans-Borbón. The rest of the land belonged to this family, who are our friends. On these grounds, I used to go horse-back riding, play in the hay stacks, and catch erizos de mar (sea urchins), which we would cut up right there on the beach and eat raw with a squirt of lemon juice.

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Ephemeral Time {Calves Liver à la Bordelais + Avocado and Radish Salad}

“This is the first time I’ve known what time it was…” Bree was ignoring both Mrs. Bug’s raptures and the [astrolobe] in her hands. I saw her meet Roger’s eyes, and smile – and after a moment, his own lopsided smile in return. How long had it been for him?

Everyone was squinting up at the setting sun, waving clouds of gnats from their eyes and discussing when they had last known the time. How very odd, I thought, with some amusement. Why this preoccupation with measuring time? And yet, I had it, too.

I laid my hand on [Jamie’s], where it rested on the box [of the astrolobe]. His skin was warm with work and the heat of the day, and he smelt of clean sweat. The hairs on his forearm shone red and gold in the sun, and I understood very well just then, why it is that men measure time. 

They wish to fix a moment, in the vain hope that so doing will keep it from departing.” ~ From The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon

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Fish A-Flying {Halibut en Papillote, Fennel Mashed Potatoes, + Fennel Salad with Roasted Pine Nuts and Mustard-Oil Dressing}

Years ago, I was bitten by a flounder. It’s one of those stories that one can retell with a certain amount of humour and romanticise about, like we do with most of our myopic views of past events. I was working in the Education Department at the Mystic Aquarium and was asked to cover for one of the instructors on vacation. Part of the duties included feeding the fish and various other animals.

In the main education room, which was also used for birthday parties and special catered events, we had a large “touch and feel” tank with various crustaceans, some bivalves and a flounder or two, if I remember correctly.

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Sweet Potato Savoury Tart

Sweet potatoes are something I’ve grown to like more since I started with the Paleo lifestyle. I used to equate them with one of my grandmother’s sweet treats. She was a Type II diabetic developing the disease sometime in her late 40s, and attributed acquiring the disease from all the raw honey and sweets she consumed when she lived in Portugal.

She was rail thin, ate like food was going out of style (my father thinks the same of my appetite), and was relatively quite healthy otherwise. She died at the young age of 90. Bless her soul, she was the funniest person I’ve known and had a huge influence on my life… but that’s a story for another day.

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Revivals… {Pan-Seared Scallops with Nectarines and Balsamic-Honey-Mustard Reduction + Broccoli Rabe with Golden Garlic}

I drove into town the other day specifically to buy more yarn for the snood I‘m making just finished for myself. The woman at the yarn store said I would have enough with one skein, but well obviously I didn’t quite follow her instructions….

I’ve become completely obsessed enamored with the beautifully produced television series Outlander and its costume design. The Starz original (I sound like an advert) is very truthful to the books – I’ve read five of the eight already – and quite possibly better! While the executive producer Ron Moore is fastidious about keeping all the details from Diana Gabaldon’s novels, he’s also very astute and perceptive by incorporating the personality of the actors and making small modifications, as he did in one of the last episodes where Caitriona Balfe does a singing and dance performance to the tune of Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, which was a very popular 1940s song. Apparently Cait does a lot of humming and singing when off the set and Ron thought it was a perfect way to include her own personality to enhance the drama. In the books, one knows what Claire is thinking because she’s narrating most of the story. But in the television series, there’s a lot less of that. So, by adding these scenes, we get to experience what it feels like for Claire to be caught between her two worlds, post WWII and the mid-18th century. In my opinion, the result is an improvement on this seductive and mystical story.

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Courgetti {Zucchini Noodles} Without the Need of a Spiraliser

Courgetti! What a cool sounding term. One of those neologisms that simply clicks from the moment one hears it. Paleo (and the culinary world) has a lot of them, since many recipes have been adapted or paleolised (that being a newly invented word in itself).

I first heard the expression coined by my friend Ceri, who is a natural chef and the author of the Natural Kitchen Adventures blog and I just couldn’t get over how easily it rolled off the tongue. Why hadn’t I thought of it? I kept calling them courgette noodles or zucchini spaghetti. How dull and uninventive. Coincidently, Ceri just celebrated her fourth year of blogging by sharing a courgetti recipe!

I’ve been meaning to share this recipe for some time now, but every time I’ve made it I’ve not been able to photograph the dish. My mother requested it often; and I love how easy and simple it is. It can be whipped up in literally less than ten minutes from start to finish. And it always comes out perfect; so it’s a great side dish or something really quick to make in the mornings for breakfast with eggs!

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Spring with Kiko {Chicken a l’Orange + Patatas a lo Pobre}

“Hi little guy. Are you walking your mistress?” asked our friendly neighbour who was raking leaves and preparing his garden for the summer season ahead. Kiko and I were walking by, with the little guy rather dragging me down the hill behind him. (By the way being called mistress was fairly enchanting especially since I’ve been reading the Outlander series, whose story takes place in the 18th century.)

Kiko is my parent’s mini schnauzer. He’s a very affable little thing, although quite prone to being fearful of people. On the other hand, he loves other dogs. Being rather small doesn’t stop him from wanting to greet, sniff and play with all the hounds we encounter on our walks, no matter how large they are. And while he’s generally fun and loving, he is also stubborn. When he digs in his hind legs, there’s no budging him until he gets what he wants, which in most cases is just a stop for him to bury his nose in the ground and mark his territory. Marking his territory takes place what seems like every two seconds though.

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A Day of Fennel

At the risk of publicly seeming a bit unstable and disorganised, I’ve decided to split the post about my mother in two separate entries. For the inconvenience, I apologise.

I was feeling a heaviness and a certain weight about including recipes with a post about my mom, but this is a food blog and I didn’t want to separate the two, especially since my mother has been my greatest influence in my life and in my cooking.

But she deserves her own space. I struggled with myself about sharing everything I did, yet not writing about her, not sharing with all of you such a huge part of my life, was in many ways not acknowledging her and her life. We are living a fragile time… there are days it’s unfathomable to believe and understand cognitively that she’s gone. And then there are those brief moments when I question myself how could she exist and not be here now.

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Only Count the Happy Hours & Rustic Tomato Soup w/ Seared Scallops

A Particularly Nonfacetious Summer with Musical Houses

Summer has come and gone, and I’ve barely noticed. First, “just the beginning” of the scorching summer heat came upon us in Sevilla from one day to the next. Once that happens, it’s generally hot (by hot I mean 40s and 40+ Celsius) for the rest of the season until the end of September. But I left in June, so I guess that I was lucky to escape the torture. Then, the humid air, fetid odours and exciting rapid lifestyle of NYC I had forgotten about enveloped me on my daily journeys to New York Presbyterian Hospital, all of June and July. And lastly, the serene and peaceful breeze of the Southeastern Connecticut shore, where we have been graced with some gorgeous Indian Summer days in the past few weeks, has finally brought the summer of 2014 to an end.

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Cream of Pumpkin Soup aux Herbes de Provence

The butternut squash had been laying on the counter for a couple of weeks and I kept moving it closer to the preparation area near the sink as a reminder to myself to do something with it. I love pumpkin almost anything, but I really wanted to avoid making another soup.

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Roasted Pumpkin Vegetable Potage

We are currently travelling through parts of Europe. My husband has to be in Austria a few days and asked me to come along so we could visit family and friends and maybe squeese in a day of early-season skiing as well. (The snow conditions in Austria are supposed to be perfect for skiing… we’ll see.)

So, once again, we are on one of our crazy road-trips, which always turn out to be a lot of fun and which we love. We usually end up seeing a number of cities and sometimes even can fit in a visit to a museum or a tourist site. On this trip thus far, we visited family in Maasland and managed to see a lovely museum. Maasland is a village in the province of South Holland and it has a long history, since about 925AD. It was also an important area, where Willem van Oranje, in 1574, finally defeated the Spaniards with an interesting strategy of flooding the lands. Most of the Netherlands is below sea level, and this area in particular is very low. One can see the old dikes and polders, part of the engineering system of sea and water management for which the Netherlands is famous.

The museum in the center of town is an old farmer’s house with 19th century period furniture. The house has a storefront filled with replicas of lots of traditional stock of Dutch candies, cacao, cigarettes, pharmaceutical drugs, cleaning utensils, cooking oils, and canned foodstuffs. They still sell some varieties of sugary sweets by weight and there were a number of children lining up to get their few euros worth of treats. I remembered my youth in Sevilla with my cousins where we used to go the corner kiosk to buy a handful of candies and chewing gums for only 5 pesetas!

The house also has a cellar, where the original family made homemade butter, buttermilk and cheeses. It’s very interesting to see all of the wooden and iron equipment used for the process of making these dairy products. What a lot of work all that was, but how healthy to make it at home! There are still many farmers who make and sell their own dairy products. In fact, our family shared with us some farmer’s cheese they had purchased especially for our visit. The taste and texture are unique and so wonderful.

My favourite part of the house was the kitchen of course. It was stocked with all kinds of beautiful enamelware.. all of which I wanted to take home! There were the traditional Dutch ovens, which can be stacked on top of each other, ladles and spoons, pots and pans, a poffertjes pan (something like “full” pancakes), teapot, coffeepot…

As we continue our trip, we are having a short break today so my husband can visit his dentist and I’m taking advantage of this time to write this post and share the recipe with you.

On Friday, the day we left London, I made this soup with some leftover roasted pumpkin from this recipe, so we could have something warm in our tummies for lunch and to hold us over until we arrived in France for dinner. It’s very easy to make and is a nice soup to serve as a starter for a full meal. You can use other vegetables, depending on your taste and what you may have on hand.

Enjoy!

ROASTED PUMPKIN VEGETABLE POTAGE

Ingredients, makes about 5 cups:

2 cups roasted pumpkin meat (I used butternut squash at roasted in the oven at 180C (350F) for about 40 minutes)
3 cups filtered water
2 leeks, finely sliced
6-8 cherry tomatoes, halved
3 medium red onions, julienne or chopped
4 stalks celery, sliced
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 teaspoon herbes de Provence
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
sea salt and black pepper, to taste
3-4 tablespoons duck fat
bacon bits or jamón serrano bits

Method:

In a pot over low heat, melt the duck fat and poach the onions until soft, about 6-8 minutes. Add the rest of the vegetables, excluding the pumpkin, and the spices. Cook until the vegetables are tender. Add one cup of the filtered water and the pumpkin meat and mix well. Add the remaining two cups of water, mix well, and season with sea salt and pepper, to taste. Warm and serve with pieces of bacon or jamón serrano.

*****

SOPA/POTAJE DE CALABAZA AL HORNO CON VERDURAS

Ingredientes, hace como 5 tazas de caldo :

2 tazas, como unos 500ml de carne de calabaza previamente hecha al horno (a 180C unos 40 minutos)
750ml de agua
2 puerros, cortados en rodajas finas
6-8 tomates cherry, cortados por la mitad
3 cebollas medianas, rojas, cortadas en juliana
4 pencas de apio, en rodajas finas
3 dientes de ajo, en rodajas a lo largo
1 cucharadita de hierbas de la Provenza
1/2 cucharadita de cúrcuma
salt y pimienta negra, a gusto
3-4 cucharadas grandes de grasa de pato
taquitos de beicon o jamón serrano, de guarnición

Como hacer la sopa:

En una olla sobre fuego lento, derrite la grasa de pato y pocha las cebollas, como unos 6-8 minutos, hasta que esten tiernas. Añade el resto de las verduras, excepto la calabaza, y las especias. Cuece hasta que esten las verduras tiernas. Agrega una taza de agua (250ml) y la calabaza y remueve bien. Ahora agregale el resto del agua, mezclando todo bien, y sazona a gusto con sal y pimienta negra. Calienta la sopa y sirve la con taquitos de beicon o jamón.

Sweet Potato & Zucchini Soup with Quatre-Epices

Since moving back to Europe, we make a point of doing an annual road trip to Sevilla, Spain usually in the summer or autumn. We have three important reasons for driving so many kilometers each year: one, we get to enjoy a lot of quality time together and see many beautiful things along the way, both in France and in Spain; and two, we have the opportunity of seeing family and friends, whom we wouldn’t see otherwise because of where they live, Bayonne and Vitoria; and three, we stock up on Spanish goodies, such as various 5-liter olive oil bottles, whole legs of jamon serrano, and other things we miss, that we couldn’t possibly pack into a suitcase. On the last trip, we even brought back some delicious salted cod!

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Now that we live in London, we are in France more often than when we lived in Germany. Now, we must cross the north of France every time we visit the Benelux and Germany. Consequently, we have gotten to know Calais and the surrounding region quite well. During the summer months when we arrive around lunchtime, our first stop in France is always for moules frites in Gravelines at Le 116. Gravelines is a rather sleepy little town on the River Aa; but it does have a beautiful beach, and the historical, hexagonal-shaped bastion, Grand Fort Philippe, is worth visiting. The area can be confusing for the first-time visitor as the culture, the landscape and even the names of towns are a mixture of French and Dutch. The area was part of Flanders and still has many similarities with Belgium and The Netherlands. (By the way, another very interesting and beautiful hexagonal fort town is Bourtange, near Groningen in The Netherlands.)

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Eating in France can be a hit or miss experience, we’ve discovered. Arguably one could say that can happen in every country; but when eating in France, we’ve come to expect top quality and cuisine, and it’s not always the case. Aside from our moules frites passion, we have stopped for every meal during one trip or another, and have had varying degrees of satisfaction. And some of the best meals have been when and where we least expected them.

We once had a delightful breakfast in Neufchâtel. We arrived in town just as the farmers’ market was opening; in fact, it was still slightly dark out and the morning air was quite brisk, adding a very pleasant atmosphere with which to start our day. At the market, we purchased some pungent local cheeses (Neufchâtel, of course!) from a very helpful cheesemonger and a large baguette at the nearby boulangerie (France and Spain are the only two countries in which I make an exception to eat bread, and only occasionally), which we consumed with a cafe au lait, before continuing our journey. I love visiting farmers’ markets, and I’ve found the best ones in France, The Netherlands and Germany. The only downside of travelling and visiting markets is not being able to purchase all the fresh seafood, meats and produce!

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Another memorable meal was our stop in Conty for dinner. The area is famous for le Tour de France going through it and the little restaurant at which we ate had a number of cycling memorabilia. But the best part of dinner was the cookery book, Cuisine d’Hiver, laying on a shelf behind me. I took a gazillion pictures of the recipes with my iPhone and later saved them on my computer to never look at them again. I do this a lot. In fact, I take pictures of menus with the intention of using the ideas for inspiration and later always forget to revisit them.

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So, when my duck fat arrived in the mail the other day, for some reason I thought of France. And no, I still haven’t used any of the recipes from the cookery book in Conty, although I’ve placed them all in a folder to have them printed. That’s a step in the right direction, I think. In the meantime, I came up with this French-inspired soup recipe to use up the sweet potatoes I had on hand.

I went to grab some quatre-épices and found out I was out of the spice mix. This is another food item I tend to purchase when travelling through France, that and herbes de Provence. The spice mix usually includes pepper (white, black or both), ginger, nutmeg and cloves. For the soup, I created my own combination by using equal parts of black pepper, nutmeg and cloves and adding some freshly grated ginger.

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To add some kick, which my husband tends to appreciate, I included some chili powder, as well. And I added turmeric for the health benefits and for a more intense colour.

As the duck fat was not enough fat for my interpretation of a healthy meal, I garnished the soup with some chopped, hard-boiled eggs and pieces of jamon serrano, along with some chopped chives for additional flavour. You can omit these, but if you want a more well-balanced dish, I wouldn’t. (Of course, bacon or ham can be substituted for the jamon serrano.)

The sweet potato and zucchini soup is my homage to our trips through France… if I can’t be in France on a daily basis, I can bring a little bit of France to me by way of the very healthy and delicious duck fat and quatre-épices. I hope you will also enjoy!

Bon Appétit!

Sweet Potato & Zucchini Soup with Quatre-Epices
Author: The Saffron Girl
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Makes about 10 servings.
Ingredients
  • 900g (just shy of 2lbs) sweet potato, peeled and roughly cubed
  • 2 medium zucchini, partially peeled and roughly cubed
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped
  • 1 medium leek, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1/4 cup duck fat
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 7-8 cups filtered water, or if you have chicken or duck broth, much better
  • 3 teaspoons coarse sea salt (adjust salt if you use broth and/or to taste, of course)
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder, optional
  • For garnish, if desired:
  • hard boiled eggs, chopped
  • jamon serrano or bacon pieces
  • chopped chives
Instructions
  1. Place the duck fat, onion and leek in a large pot. Poach over low heat, about 8 minutes until the onion is almost translucent.
  2. Add the garlic, zucchini pieces, and the spices and stir well.
  3. Cook about 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add the sweet potatoes and 4 cups of filtered water or stock.
  5. Cook over medium heat for 30 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.
  6. Remove from heat and allow to slightly cool, enough to handle safely.
  7. With an immersion blender, puree until smooth.
  8. Add 3-4 cups of additional filtered water.
  9. Add sea salt, adjusting to taste.
  10. Add chili powder, if desired.
  11. Stir well.
  12. Heat through over low heat to warm enough to serve, about 5-7 minutes.
  13. Garnish with hard-boiled egg, jamon serrano and chives, if desired.
  14. (The soup freezes well for later use.)

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