Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Patxi, ay va la hostia!*

Last week, E was sent to Bilbao again on business, so given I was in a quiet time workwise and E had accumulated Spanair points, I decided to join him and that way visit our friends Izaskun and Josefa in Bilbao..

What can I say other than the Basque Country deserves its name as culinary hotspot. What's more, the city is more than just the Guggenheim.. Wandering around the markets while E was working was just amazing. There were people at all the fish stalls, clamouring to get to the front and an amazing variety too. The scallops looked particularly good.
However it has to be said, that the main focus in Bilba
o (and San Sebastian, which is the next city on the "to do" list) is on their pintxos.

Pintxos are the Basque version of tapas, but generally just a mouthful, stuffed on top of a piece of bread. Essentially it arose from when wine was served in the olden days, a piece of dry bread was placed over the top of the goblet to stop any flies or other nasties from falling in. From there it has evolved into a cultural tradition, with all the bars in the Basque country filled with people at lunchtime and in the evening. There's no tables or chairs as everyone stands around, even
outside in the street with a zurito (a small shotglass of beer) or a glass of wine (more common). Depending on the area, the variety changes although most bars tend to have a speciality.. so as
you can imagine, it leads to a bar-crawl! I especially loved the ones with Txangurro (crab meat mixed with mayonnaise) and the amazing mushrooms in Cafe Bilbao in Plaza Nueva.

The weekend we were there was the patron saint of Bilbao so Saturday everyone was out on the street to celebrate. Surprisingly after the rain that we had the days before (constant Ireland-like drizzle) Saturday was a bright, warm winter day. Izaskun and Josefa decided it was about that Alain started to look like a real Basque so he was dressed for the occasion. The atmosphere was amazing, people everywhere with bottles of cider
(not like ours back home) more like wine but made with apples. Izaskun insisted that we try the local Xistorra and Talo - a pancake made from co
rnflour which was rather nice but filling!
All in all, culinary wise, it is definitely a capital city!

*Typical Spanish expression apparently characteristic of the Basques

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Book, done and dusted..

It goes without saying, the longer you have to do a translation, the longer you will take.

Boy, I was glad to finally hand in the final version of the infamous chef's recipe book. I'd got a little tired of having my mouth constantly watering, to only find that my fridge was bare of ingredients (when I'm on a project, the housework/shopping gets left for later).

It will be interesting to see how it actually translates, not in the literal sense - that work is already done, but whether it achieves good sales, although the print run is going to be limited. It's not going on sale here, so I just hope the editorial might give me a copy.

Will keep Amazoning over the next few months to see if anything comes up..

Friday, 7 November 2008

Manzanas, massanas, pomes, apples.. Call them what you like

After several failed attempts, I've finally mastered how to make a good apple crumble. It just requires good juicey apples, a dash of brandy (if available) and proper butter in the crumble. E liked my sis-in-law's version with pistachios that I think I'll have to try it out.

A simple dessert, done in no time that doesn't require a properly functioning oven! (Mine has taken a liking to either burning or doing nothing, it doesn't do things by half measures so I discovered at my one and only attempt to make a Christmas cake last year)

If I win the Gordo this year, I definitely be buy this

Friday, 31 October 2008

You can just taste it now...

I know.. It's been a while since I've written anything here but to be honest, I haven't felt like I have anything to write about since the Pumpkin soup incident.. (silly accident with a blender and my finger... it's alright, it's still intact but I haven't had the same relationship with my blender since).

Not that I have stopped cooking. In fact, it's quite the opposite.. just I haven't really felt like talking about it. So don't worry, E has been well fed with apple and red fruit crumbles, dark chocolate biscuit cake, spicy pumpkin soup (using my food processor - no danger of catching fingers there!).

Also I'm in the middle of the translation of the recipe book by the Michellin-starred Catalan chef, so maybe so much translation has fulfilled my food thoughts! It's a great book, some of the recipes are really good - simple and easy to do but look great (like fried egg and black pudding ravioli - sounds weird but really good).

Anyway.. on my investigations for the translation, I came across a really cool site. Essentially it's aimed at the trade but the photography is amazing! The company's called Gastromedia and they have a portal that provides top quality photographs for advertising, publishing companies etc. Gastrofoto. There's some really good stuff there, some photos a bit so-so but there's some really great shots like this one. Makes the mouth water, which is what it is all about!

Saturday, 27 September 2008

More than just photos...

It's an early start this morning as should be working but as always, my mind has wandered to subjects a bit more interesting (there's only so much SAP that a person can take!).

Today, I've been thinking about food photography and styling after my attempt to photograph my spinach soup (to pathetic results - I'll show you later).. I'm absolute in awe of the people that can do it, and that do it really well.

For example, Beatrice Peltre (aka La Tartine Gourmand) who takes some really amazing shots like this one to the right - for more great stuff, visit her portfolio at Beatrice Peltre.com.

For me, being a food stylist is right up there with being a food critic as some of my top dream jobs (apart from being translator, although I often wonder if I'm mad and whether I should be doing something else instead). Imagine, being able to say, the next time you pick up your copy of Food and Wine, that they are your photos making the world salivate.. I guess the essence is that, being able to express the taste and aroma of fresh muffins, the crisp texture of a carrot stick, the comforting feeling of a hot apple crumble in pictures .

It seems that all the tips that the experts give is to use natural light and to play around with the macro on the camera. I think I'll have to buy a small tripod because my hand shakes too much to be able to get good shots.

Hats off to the people out there making our mouths water!

Friday, 26 September 2008

Winter's a coming..

I don't know was it the fact of being back in Ireland for a few days, or maybe that my lovely brother and sister-in-law gave me Avoca's Soups for a birthday present, but can't seem to get the idea of making soup out of my head..

Even E agreed with me that now was a time to start making soup again!

The weather has taking a turn, aparently it was raining non-stop when we were in Ireland (that was surprisingly sunny!) so there's nothing like a good homemade soup to bring in the Autumn.

Soup's something that E and myself can never agree on. Here in Spain, soup (sopa) is what we would call a broth - boiled vegetable stock with a bit of pasta if you're lucky. E has two favourites one - with cabbage, green pepper and onion (and nothing more!) that has you spending the night peeing (yep, purative qualities!), and the other is with other chopped veg and maybe a bit of pasta. Pasta's the only thing that makes it bearable, so E and I make a good match - I eat the pasta, he gets the stock.. I'm not surprised that Mafalda objected so much to it!!

Irish soups are another cup of tea (or soup) altogether.. thick, creamy (they call them cremas here), even the broth has interesting chunks of vegetables and meat.

Routed out my soup bean mix out of the back of cupboard and left it to soak yesterday.. It's a great mix of pulses, barley and split peas that I can only get in Ireland. Strange that, as I can get ever other pulse under the sun here in Spain, but no one actually sells a mixed pack that contains barley - it would definitely be a money-spinner, especially since they like their broth a lot here (or dishwater shown a bit of vegetable as I call it).

So tonight I'm going to try Spinach and barley soup.. it's a recipe half from Avoca and half from The Silver Spoon

I'll sum it up here:

Spinach, fresh if you can get it - I'll be using frozen, my fridge is bare after Ireland except for a Smoked Salmon, more about that later ;-)

Barley (and lentils)

1 Potato (if I get to the shops in time, otherwise the barley will thicken it)

diced Onion

vegetable stock cube (cheating, i know)

a bit of grated Nutmeg

Parmesan cheese

Dash of cream/milk

Sautée the onion until golden and soft, add cubed potato and sautée a bit. Add stock, barley and spinach (it's frozen). Simmer on the stove for about 30 minutes until barley and potato is cooked, purée, add milk and cheese and pass through a sieve for a smooth velvety soup.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Is the world ready for Lyd's writing?

Just been offered the job to translate a cookery book written by an infamous Catalan chef.. From what the publisher says it's a season-themed book, with recipes for every season..

Fingers crossed that it works out.. Will keep you informed..

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Black pudding - a universal thing

Until meeting E, I thought the Irish were the only ones to make a real good
Black Pudding (made with wheat) but that wasn't I discovered Baldanas from Tortosa...

E's hometown, Tortosa, is nestled in the river bed of the Ebro, only a few miles from the sea, near an area that they call the Delta which as you'll remember from your geography lessons is the alluvial plain of the river just before reaching the sea. What's special about this area is it's one of the main rice-growing regions in Europe. Yes! we actually have rice growing in Europe, it's not just a Chinese thing and there's a lot more varieties that just
Italian Abororio rice. Here, they grow several varieties: long rice, basmati, etc. but also a variety called Arròs bomba which is used to make the paellas in the area (I'll get back to the subject of rice in another post)..

With such abundance of rice, it's normal that they'd use it in more than just paella and rice
dishes. It's one of the main ingredients of the Baldana, among the other typical black pudding ingredients. How do they cook it you may ask? Simple, it's already boiled so it's just a matter of heating it up on the frying pan.. The typical accompanyment is Escalivada (roasted peppers, onions and aubergines soaked in oil) or even just in an Entrepà
with allioli (no, it's not just a French thing - actually more than likely was brought in by the Romans from Egypt).

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Traditional dish re-worked - Spinach Carbonara

Got to thinking the other day about one of my favourite dishes, carbonara.. Why not add spinach? I mean spinach goes well with bacon, carbonara essentially is any dish that uses egg to make the sauce.. So why not experiment?

So took some bacon, eggs and spinach.. and of course some nutmeg, an essential spice for spinach. Spinach Canneloni wouldn't been canneloni without lashings of nutmeg..

(The beer isn't one of the ingredients but an essential for the cook while waiting for the water to boil! Nothing like a cool beer to make the wait easier)

Mixed it all together with some grated parmesan cheese.. and voilà! The end result turned out quite good.. definitely would have gone back for more if hadn't felt guilty about leaving E some for lunch the next day.. although have to admit that the eggs did omelette a bit - I think a good idea would to be to cook (and cool) the spinach in advance.. that way it shouldn't curdle the eggs so quickly.. oh and a dash of cream (although that's breaking away from the traditional recipe).. all in all, not a bad attempt on innovation.

Monday, 8 September 2008

The Omnivore's Hundred - my version

Stumbled across this list on other blogger's websites and thought it would be fun to try. It basically consists of list of food (debatable) items which you should have tried sometime in your life..

The rules are these:
1. Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2. Bold all the items you’ve eaten
3. Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4. Optional extra: post a comment on
Very Good Taste, linking to your results.

Ok.. so here's my hundred.. I've put my no-no's in red.
My score is 72.. not bad, but still have some eating to do.. Like the sound of lobster thermidor, maybe I should try to make it sometime..

1. Venison (my mum makes a great stew)
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros (in Odessa, Dublin - best brunch special)
4. Steak tartare (several times, E is crazy about it..)
5. Crocodile (nice, gelatinous with a monkfish texture)
6. Black pudding (several types: morcilla with onion, baldana -from Tortosa with rice, Irish Clonakilty BP with wheat)
7. Cheese fondue (various types: manchego cheese with red white, traditional with kirsch, with truffles and cava) 8. Carp
9. Borscht
Baba ghanoush regularly make it at home
11. Calamari
Pho (tried something very very similar in Thailand)
13. PB&J sandwich
Aloo gobi also made it at home
15. Hot dog from a street cart
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters (Irish, Galician and from Deltebre)
29. Baklava
Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas - tried the other paste but that's not real wasabi
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl (clam chowder yes, in a sourdough bowl no)
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo made at home
40. Oxtail (speciality here, E loves it although not my favourite have eaten it)
41. Curried goat - have tried breaded kid chops so goat's not a problem
42. Whole insects - if cooked and was feeling adventurous, I guess so.. otherwise, no..
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more - my older brother is a fan
Fugu (don't think I'd risk it)
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel (one of my favourites - smoked on toast with alioli or crushed tomato)
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin (just last weekend, octopus and sea urchin rice in the Delta)
51. Prickly pear - not a problem
Abalone (strange, haven't come across any of these before here in Spain)
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal (but for some reason like the Mcfillet fish more!)
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
60. Carob chips local health food shop
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads (duck, and then recently beef -although different part, both are sweetbreads)
63. Kaolin - hmm mud, most probably as a kid, but knowingly.. would have to say not as yet
64. Currywurst (from Lidl)
65. Durian - in Thailand, rather a strange taste.. wouldn't want to leave it too long though
66. Frogs’ legs (also in the Delta)
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain - hmm, difficult one this.. Do not like banana at all, so I guess I would say no..
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette - would try it but don't reckon it would become a permanent feature
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe - hehehe, I'm Irish, of course I'd try it..
Gjetost, or brunost - sounds good, never been there so haven't had the chance
75. Roadkill - depending on the animal.. cat, dog, rat, hedgehog etc - no, deer - not a problem
76. Baijiu - same as 73
77. Hostess Fruit Pie - Another American food.. Canned steamed pudding count on the British front?
78. Snail (in rice, a la llauna, in tomato sauce with jamon)
79. Lapsang souchong - I'm from Ireland, nation of tea drinkers
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
Pocky - the French version
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant. - still waiting to win the lotto to go to El Bulli..
85. Kobe beef - in Vertigo restaurant at the top of the Bayan Tree Hotel, Bangkok
86. Hare - in E's parents house.. I think his dad had caught it
87. Goulash - traditional style and done with Kangaroo meat
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam - in granny's house.. not a favourite
92. Soft shell crab - in Ubud Hanging Gardens -wow, wish we could get them here.
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano - does Port Aventura count?
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor - nope but sounds really good
98. Polenta - in Venice with "Sea grasshopers!" (Galera)-Squilla mantis
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake - they say it's like eel so ok..

Friday, 29 August 2008

There's a world of foodies out there!

Absolutely overcome by the number of food blogs online! I could spend *hours* reading them all, so reckoned that the best way to read a few is to put links to some of the best. The great thing is there's actual search engines dedicated to finding posts. Food Blog Blog.com Wow!

Cake Wrecks is a gem, especially this post.. I mean who is cruel or tacky enough to think that a cake like that is a good idea?!

Anyhow, enough of reading everyone else's posts - it's about time that I start adding more of my own stuff..

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Do we really know what we are eating?

Just watching Jamie Oliver's documentary, Fowl Dinners which looks at the debate over battery-reared vs. free-range eggs and chickens..
Not a new issue but an interesting (and somewhat shocking) approach to make the commoner see the differences..
Do we really think about where the food on our plate is coming from? I think Spain seems to have a slightly tighter control on some areas - especially when it comes to DO foodstuffs, but these only represent a fraction of the total industry..
As a consumer is there any way that we can really know what we are getting? For me, these days I seem to tend more to use smaller shops like Bon Area when shopping for meat, chicken etc. Yes, it probably works out a bit more expensive but at least you know it's coming directly from the producer itself.. The supermarkets here don't always have the best produce - limp looking lettuce, dodgy steaks etc.. better to buy from somewhere that at least knows what they are selling.
After seeing this documentary, I know I'll be check for 0 or 1 marked eggs (free-range or open barn eggs).
Edited: 29th August 2008
These days, after seeing the documentary I've been more conscious about really looking at the labels to see what they contain, the source etc... And to be honest, I think the Irish and UK market is a lot more conscious to give details about the source etc. I know it's a EU requirement but Spain really sucks on giving additional information to the consumer. Started browsing some webpages of the meat product producers based here in Spain, and to be honest they talk about the processes and the machinery used, but nothing about the quality of their product nor the conditions used in obtaining that product.
Went to my usual co-op store to buy meat the other day and realised their labelling gives little or no information, just the basic requirements - indicates it's Spanish beef giving the reference (as required) but nothing given on the chicken. I mean their eggs to my shock and horror also are battery like hundreds of other producers, so I guess there's no difference between buying from the producer or the supermarket, except the prices. Not good.. :-/

Monday, 25 August 2008

Green miracle ingredient!

Today I'm quite pleased with myself.. Somehow I've managed to grow three amazing Basil plants without killing them off! I'm not known for my green fingers, usually forgetting to water plants after a few days, but with Basil it's different as I keep thinking of the great end results! Didn't have as much luck with the mint and parsley I'd planted - the seedlings dried out even before they started to grow.. It's back to buying established plants!

So it looks like Pesto tonight.. Love it, goes on anything just like Jamie Oliver says; toast with sun-dried tomatoes, mingled in pasta.. or maybe I'll be lucky and E will bring home some office-grown tomatoes (yep, I did type right, his office has their own vegetable plot and take turns in watering the tomato plants! Definitely a new executive de-stress plan!)

My pesto is the same as the basic, but I use Arbequino olive oil from Tortosa as it has a much stronger olivy taste meaning that it can stand up to the strong taste of basil and garlic, and I tend not to toast the pinenuts as I find it create a much creamier end result..

handful of basil leafs
a clove of garlic
Arbequino olive oil
Chuck it all into a mortar and grind for your life! ;-)

Saturday, 23 August 2008

La Fageda - Catalunya's best yoghurt with a heart

E has taken a liking to these yoghurts these days.. and with reason..
Only recently discovered this product, curiously through a documentary that was on TVC here in Catalonia. What makes it different to other yogurts is the work force behind it..

As the La Fageda web site says "... it's a non-profit social iniciative which aims to integrate handicapped individuals from the Garrotxa into the workforce." With a 210-strong work force, the whole production is carried out by people with Down's, autism and other mental disorders. Like a workshop scheme but the workers can actually see an end result that is actually used.. Not only that, but with tangible results, their turnover in 2006 was €7,264,000. Not bad for a small inititative! What's more, the yogurt is really good, using only natural products coming from the livestock on the farm, taking a really good base product and adding only natural flavours.. They even have a range of yogurts; skimmed, bio, yogurt drinks, custards.. Gone are the days of Superquinn chocolate yogurts, with their synthetic taste and unnatural greyish colour.. Who would of though lemon yogurts would taste soo good?

Friday, 22 August 2008

Sí España!

I guess you're wondering what an Irish girl is doing in Spain... It's reasonable enough question, one I often ask myself, only to conclude that it was my love of food that brought me back here and that keeps me here (no offence E!)..

I guess it all started when I was only 18, on my post-Leaving Cert trip to Port de la Selva with Saoirse. I don't know what it was, but somehow that seaside village got under my skin, the Mediterranean saltwater in my blood that made me destined to return..

My first of experience of food here in Spain was not what you'd imagine - for the two weeks we spent between Port de la Selva and Barcelona, we lived on Chinese instant noodles, Lay's crisps (plain salted crisps were unheard of in Tayto-loving Ireland at the time), watermelon and ice creams - not what you'd call culinary delights. But I guess there was something there that fascinated me as I walked through La Boquería just off Las Ramblas..

Everything about it enthralled me, the people, bustle of people, the colours and vast variety of fruits and vegetables that I couldn't name in English, let alone in Spanish..

Just watching the old ladies was an experience in itself- the way the lady behind the counter would examine each individual tomato, testing for ripeness while endlessly babbling on in what was a stream of incomprehensible words to me at the time. How could it take so long just to buy a few tomatoes?

It wasn't until later, returning two years later on an Erasmus year as part of my university studies, that I really started to comprehend that the Spanish don't eat for necessity, rather for the love of it. Food and shopping was not a chore to them, mindlessly wandering up and down through the aisles, randomly picking off stuff off the shelves.. rather a hunt to find 'the ripest tomatoes', 'the freshest fish', 'the most succulent steak'.. They actually think twice about what they are putting into their mouth. They're passionate about it. I just have to look at my husband E to see him get enthusiastic about the great mackerel he found, and the hours that we spend just wandering around supermarkets wherever we go...

It's not that I'm criticising my hometown; there's really great Irish food too - but I guess our (the Irish as a culture) whole attitude to food at the time (although it's not the case now) was completely different, eating out of routine rather than anything else.
My background, I guess, was a little more special - my folks being fairly adventurous food-wise. Dad is a keen fisherman which meant there was always fresh trout on the table and we wouldn't blink twice to see him gutting fish at the kitchen sink, so it's not surprising to hear that reared a child whose favourite food when she was 6 was mussels..
Not at all typical in Ireland where the most foreign fish that you'd see then was haddock or something similar.. They're still one of my favourite dishes, simply steamed with loads of garlic and fresh crusty bread to mop all the juice.. It's like having the sea there in a bowl - just wonderful.. I guess afterall it's not so surprising that I'm living here with the quantity of fresh Mediterranean seafood available, maybe it's always been there but it took going to Spain to make me realise it.. Still, I do miss those Irish mussels..

So there you go.. it started out of curiosity and ended up being love, literally.. My family never cease to be surprised about the new foods and dishes E and I find for them to try, some to their liking (Rice with duck and snails is actually quite good!) and others not (still haven't convinced them to try callos)

So why this blog? Partly boredom - should have been working a translation project but somehow stumbled across a load of great food blogs done by people that have the same passion as me (Wow, I'm not alone in the world!!) and partly curiosity to see if anyone is actually interested what I write, to share my love for food and to stop boring all my other friends with my in-depth, blow by blow account of what we ate, where we ate it and how we'd do it better.
Well there you are...
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