Thursday, 29 September 2011

Tapas: Tortilla Espanola - Spanish Omelette

Tortilla Espanola

A display of Tapas wouldn’t be complete without a Tortilla - Spanish omelette. A very simple, inexpensive dish made of just potato, egg and onion.
It’s one of those dishes that crosses all regions of Spanish cooking, it can be served hot or cold but most commonly found cold as part of tapas.
The onions and potatoes are slowly cooked together - sweetening the onions and leaving the potatoes with a gentle crunch as you bite through the Tortilla.
Once you have tried this recipe you can start experimenting by adding extra ingredients like peppers or chorizo too.
The most important ingredient in the Tortilla is the eggs so make sure you use the best eggs you can find as this makes a huge difference to the flavour. I always go for free range organic eggs whenever possible.

Serves: 2 as a main dish or 6 as part of tapas

5 free-range organic eggs
Handful baby potatoes, peeled and sliced into discs
1 medium Spanish onion, sliced
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

On a low heat cook the onion and potato together in a little oil. Season and cover with a lid for about 20 minutes, giving it a shake or stir every now and then to make sure nothing sticks to the pan. The potatoes and onion should be cooked but not coloured. Turn off the heat and leave to cool for 5-10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a bowl beat up the eggs and season. Add the cooked onion and potatoes to the eggs and give it a good stir to coat.

Get a clean frying pan very hot on a high heat, add a glug of olive oil, pour in the mixture and turn the heat right down to the lowest setting.
Leave the egg to cook very slowly; it can take up to 20 minutes. Every now and then use a flat edged knife to score the edge of the pan - ensuring the tortilla keeps a round shape.

When the tortilla is almost cooked to the top you can do two things: either use a plate to turn it over and slide back into the pan (this is what the Spanish do but it can get messy!) or place the tortilla under the grill for a minute or two.

Cut the tortilla into wedges and serve warm or cold.

The tortilla should be moist and full of flavour.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Tapas: Butterbean Stew

Butterbean Stew

The soft butterbeans in this Spanish stew accompany a Mediterranean tomato sauce filled with a tantalizing mix of spices. This dish is very easy to make and always popular when part of a tapas feast.

Serves: 2 as a main meal or 6, as part of a tapas dinner.

1 Medium Spanish onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic finely chopped
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp sweet smoked paprika
1 tsp cayenne pepper
2 x 250g can butterbeans
1x 250g chopped tomatoes
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Fry the onion in a little olive oil until soft, add the garlic for a few minutes and stir in the paprika, cumin and cayenne pepper. Cover the onions with the spices then add the chopped tomatoes and half fill the empty tin with water (adding this to the mix too), bring to boil and reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the butterbeans and continue to cook through for a further 5/10 minutes.
I usually cook this dish the day before or a few hours ahead of time to allow the flavours to develop. I then quickly re-heat before serving.

M: If I'm cooking this dish as a main meal and I'm in need of a meat fix, I often separately fry a few slices of chorizo and stir into my portion before serving. 

V: If I'm having chorizo, I sprinkle the Vegetarian's dish with a few cubes of Manchego cheese. 

Monday, 26 September 2011

Pub Review: The Colonel Fawcett, Camden

The Colonel Fawcett

On Saturday I went to the launch party of The Colonel Fawcett pub located in the back streets of Camden.

The clientele mixed between locals who have lived in the area for years to trendies excited about a new spot in town. The venue was heaving as the night continued until 2am (drinking downstairs and dancing upstairs) and there was a queue of eager punters desperate to get in from as early as 9pm.

As an early bird I got to sample quite a few of the free drinks and a delicious array of canapés which included mini battered fish with pea and mint dip and tartar sauce, fig with nougat and crème fraiche and gorgeous creamy white chocolate balls.

After tasting what was on offer and having a sneak peak at the daily menu (British dishes made from fresh, seasonal produce), I am keen to book a table soon, as I expect it will be a pub meal to remember.

Pub Review: The Duchess of Cambridge, Stamford Brook

The Duches of Cambridge (formally The Brook)

On Sunday I travelled across London for the soft launch of the new venue and menu of The Duchess of Cambridge in Stamford Brook.

The friendly yet nervous staff greeted us and handed over the menus. There was a fantastic wine list and an extensive selection of beer.

The Vegetarian (my brothers girlfriend) was pleased with her nut roast. It was good to see a meat free option, a vegetarian friend was at pub down the road from the Duchess of Cambridge the other day and was dismayed to discover that out of the 14 dishes, not one was vegetarian!

The starter we chose to share was dissappointingly bland; a puff pastry with four cherry tomatoes. The roast beef main meal would have benefited from less salt and more flavour. We later discovered the gravy was Bisto based which, was a huge disappointment too. This was a soft launch so hopefully the food will improve soon.

There is scope for the future and news of a new beer only bar, a cheese week which, launches the cheese board and a beer festival in the pipe line.
Fingers crossed everything pulls together - having grown up in the area, we are all keen to see this work.

Let me know if you have a different experience. There is a sandwich menu during the week, which I am yet to see or taste so perhaps this is where they will shine.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Calamares Fritos or Crispy Onion Rings

Calamares Fritos

The shallow frying makes this tapas dish a little bit naughty but as the Calamares Fritos are made from fresh squid and served with a wedge of lemon, there is a light and refreshing element too.
When I make Calamares Fritos as part of a tapas dinner, the Vegetarian has a Crispy Onion Ring alternative.

Serves: 2 Vegetarians and 2 Pescatarians, as part of tapas

P: 1 squid, gutted and sliced into rings about 1cm wide
V: 1 Spanish onion, sliced into rings

2 Tbsp Corn flour
2 Tbsp Plain flour
Salt and pepper

On a plate sprinkle a layer of corn flour, a layer of plain flour, season and mix together.

In a pan heat the corn oil until it starts to bubble.

Gently pat dry the onion rings with a tea towel. Coat with the flour, shake off the excess and place in the hot oil. Cook for 3-4 minutes and set aside to drain on kitchen paper. You can do a few at a time but don’t overcrowd the oil as it will lose heat and not cook through properly.

P: Coat each ring of squid in the flour, shake off the excess and place in the hot oil. Cook for 2-3 minutes and set aside to drain on kitchen paper. You can do a few at a time but don’t overcrowd the oil as it will lose heat and not cook the squid properly.

Serve with a wedge of lemon.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Tapas - Crispy Aubergine Slices with Honey: Berenjenas con Miel

Berenjenas con Miel

I first tried Berenjenas con Miel during my first week living in Barcelona a few years ago. The Vegetarian and I had spent a gorgeous day on the beach and were slowly walking around town, familiarising ourselves with our new Spanish home, when we found a cute Tapas restaurant off the beaten track on Rambla de Raval. I had never heard of this dish before, and neither of us have much of a sweet tooth, but we were both intrigued to see what it could entail.
The aubergines were crisp and the runny honey drizzled over added a sweet twist, helping this dish stand out amongst the other tapas on the table.

Since that day, whenever I have an evening of tapas, I am sure to make Berenjenes con miel which, always become a favourite amongst my guests too.

Serves 4, as part of tapas

1 aubergine, thinly sliced (use a mandolin if possible)
Plain flour
Corn flour
Table Salt
Runny honey
Table salt
Sunflower oil for deep frying

Lay the aubergine slices on a plate and sprinkle over a little table salt, set aside for about 20 minutes - this will draw out any excess moisture. Use kitchen roll to soak up the moisture.

On a plate sprinkle over a layer of plain flour, then a layer of corn flour and mix together.

Fill a large pan 1/3 full with the sunflower oil and heat until it is piping hot (you can test it’s hot enough by adding a small cube of white bread which should brown within 60 seconds).

Lightly coat each aubergine slices in the flours and give them a shake before placing them into the hot oil. Cook for 1 minutes while the colour turns, scoop out using a skillet or draining spoon and set aside to drain on kitchen paper. Cook a handful at a time but don't over-fill the pan. Continue until all are draining.

The aubergine slices will become soggy after just one dip so I give them all a double dip in the oil for no more than 30 seconds to crisp them up. This time try not to pile them on top of each other when draining on the kitchen paper so that they keep their crispness.

When they are crisp and drained, toss them in a bowl and drizzle over the runny honey.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Escalivada – Smoky Aubergine and Pepper Tapas

This is a fantastic Catalonian dish, which is a great starter, part of tapas or a light snack for lunch. The vegetables are char-grilled, which creates a smoky flavour.
Serve on toasted French bread with a few white anchovy fillets or sun-blushed tomatoes.

Serves: 2, as a snack

2 red peppers
1 large aubergine
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper

Char-grill the peppers and aubergine for about 20 minutes, turning every 5 minutes.  I usually do this over a raw flame on the hob but this can get messy so if you prefer, you can place them under the grill or even roast them in the oven at 180 degrees for about 45 minutes. By this time, the skin should be burnt and black.

Place each in separate plastic bags and tie a knot to keep out the air. Leave to steam for 15 minutes, then gently remove the skins, discard the stalks, the seeds of the peppers and wipe away any black bits.

Cut the peppers and aubergine into strips, stir together in a bowl, drizzle with olive oil and season.

Serve warm or cold.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Restaurant Review: Sam’s Brasserie

Sam's Brasserie

Last night a Pescatarian and I were lured across town on a Monday evening by the promise of complimentary treats at the newly refurbished Sam’s Brasserie in Chiswick.
We were greeted by Sam Harrison (the man behind the name) at the new quirky American-diner style bar where we nibbled on spicy pop-corn and flatbread, and three sizable portions of hummus, babaganoush and the best light and creamy taramasolata I have ever tasted.  

Tasty Treats
Our treats were part of the exciting revised New York style bar menu. Other highlights included a skinny burger with lots of salad and no bun, a Butchers board, and Padron peppers with sea salt (my absolute favourite snack when I lived in Spain).  

Steak and Kidney Pudding

The new restaurant menu tickled our fancy even more so we carried our drinks across the buzzing bar and into the relaxed restaurant, where we were complimented on the hearty dishes we chose: Steak and kidney pudding with swede and carrot mash and an extra jug of gravy and a humongous fresh plaice with a parsley and caper sauce.  Even though we were full to the brim we somehow managed to share an irresistible blackcurrant cheesecake with port and apple sorbet.

Blackcurrant Cheesecake
As we were leaving, we discovered we had just missed Rick Stein who had been filming his Christmas special there that day. But he will be back in November for his Sea-Food Pop up shop.

If you want to sample the complimentary snacks get down to Sam’s Brasserie during September (Monday - Thursday) between 6pm and 8pm.

Oh, and how could I forget - the cocktails are worth a tipple too.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Spicy Spanish Eggs with Manchego Cheese or Chorizo

Spicy Spanish Eggs with Chorizo

My absolute favourite thing about the weekend is eating eggs for breakfast. By Thursday I’m really excited at the prospect of only 2 days to go and start planning my early morning meal.
I usually walk my little dog first to build up an appetite so by the time I eat, it’s more like brunch than breakfast, this also gives me an excuse to have an extra large portion.
Today spicy eggs are on the agenda and to follow my theme of Spanish cuisine I added paprika and cumin for a Moorish twist.

Serves: 1 Vegetarian, 1 meat-eater

1 Spanish onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed and finely chopped
1 can chopped plum tomatoes
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp smoked paprika
Few sprigs of fresh thyme
4 free range organic eggs
Sea salt and black pepper
Olive oil

V: Chunk of Manchego cheese, cubed
M: Chunk of chorizo sausage, sliced

In a large frying pan fry the onion and garlic in a little olive oil until the onion starts to brown. Add the cayenne pepper, cumin and smoked paprika and cook for a minute, stirring constantly. Pour over the tin of tomatoes and add half a tin of water. Give it a good stir, season, sprinkle over the thyme and leave on a medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

M: In a small frying pan gently fry the chorizo until it starts to crisp up. Add half the tomato sauce and crack in 2 of the eggs. Fold the white into the sauce and leave to cook for a few minutes. Half cover with a lid to cook through the top of the egg too.

V: Add the other half of tomato sauce to another small frying pan, sprinkle over the cheese cubes and crack in the remaining 2 eggs. Fold the white into the sauce and leave to cook for a few minutes. Half cover with a lid to cook through the top of the egg too.

Don’t bother with plates and just eat from the pan, dipping fresh crusty bread into the gooey egg yolks.