How to bring a bit of Spain into your life

One of the things I love most about the Spanish food culture is tapas; the way people move from one bar to the next, not just for the drinks or the atmosphere but to share in the different foods on offer at each place.  It sounds so marvelously sociable, decadent and…sensible.  There are so many great places to eat, it seems a shame to limit ourselves to one place for an entire evening. And another bonus of moving from place to place is that if you go somewhere bad, at least you won’t be staying long.  When talking about this tapas tradition with one of the staff at a local Spanish restaurant I was told that Spaniards call it “going for a walk”…sounds so civilized 🙂

Tapas Taxonomy – from Matt Gouldings book Grape, Olive, Pig

My interest in tapas and Spanish food has intensified recently after reading Matt Gouldings book Grape, Olive, Pig.  It’s the most amazing travel guide for food lovers which has left me aching to experience EVERYTHING that he has experienced!  And it got me thinking; do I really have to wait until I can go to Spain to experience this fabulous food phenomenon?  After all, it’s becoming quite common for bars and restaurants outside of Spain to serve small sharing plates.

After carrying out some research I discovered that there’s actually a fairly long and varied list of places serving small plates around town.  My only criteria was that they must be in walking distance to each other; otherwise the easy movement and spontaneity would be lost.  Once I had my list, I sorted it by locality, noted their opening hours and was nearly ready to begin my food adventure.

However, before getting started on this epic journey I felt that I should seek the advice of one more experienced than I in the art of tapas.  In his book Grape, Olive, Pig Matt Goulding has some “Rules of the Crawl”:

01. Find the balance.  For every crispy croqueta you’ll want a briny clam to keep your palate primed for more.

02. Keep moving.  The point is to work your way from one bar to the next, sampling the best of each.

03. Fill it up.  Tapas culture is as much about drinking as eating.  Not getting drunk, but enjoying good wine, sherry, or your poison of choice.

With these words of wisdom and my well researched list of eateries I felt fully prepared to launch into the realm of good eating; all I needed now…was a friend.

Enter Nadine; my fair foodie friend, more than happy to assist me in this foodie adventure.  Like Matt Goulding, Nadine had two excellent suggestions for our outing:

01. Travel by Bike.  Increases the range of eating options and the speed with which we can reach them.

02. Start Early.  To maximise our eating time.

And I’m happy to report that these five pearls of wisdom saw us through the good times.  See the images below to drool over the food we ate on this glorious tapas marathon (click into them for descriptions of what they are):

As suspected, this turned out to be one of the BEST ways to spend an afternoon…EVER!

Last weekend, buoyed by the success of this outing, I decided that – in the name of research and good eating – it was time to go again.  Enter husband and daughter; two most excellent eaters and food adventurers.  This time we traveled by foot and while it was still good, it didn’t offer the same flexibility as a bike.  The food and enjoyment however, were epic.  For further drooling, see the photos of what we ate below:

So far this experiment has been very successful, and can only improve as we learn from each outing.  It’s interesting (but not surprising) to note that Christchurch bars and restaurants aren’t used to people coming in for just one or two things; it’s expected that once you’re there that you’ll have a full meal.  A few places expressed concern that we would be hungry if we didn’t order more food (even after we explained to them what we were doing); but trust me, they had no need to fear 😉

Key learnings from these first two tapas crawls:

01. Check opening hours.  Some places don’t open until 4-5pm.

02. Get to popular places early.  Christchurch isn’t used to walk-ins or people moving from one place to another so popular places are likely to be full later in the evening.

03. Biking is best.  If you get somewhere and it’s full, it’s no big deal to bike somewhere else…plus you look super cute if you’re on a vintage bike with a basket.

What with the starting advice from Matt, the excellent suggestions from Nadine and my first hand experiences, I feel that this is well on the way to becoming one of my favourite ways to spend a weekend afternoon and I fully intend to keep it up; all in the name of research you understand.  Oh, and good food, good times and adventures.


Spanish Tapas & Cocktails

For Christmas my husband gave me some Spanish cazuela dishes that I’ve been drooling over at the Mediterranean Food Warehouse for quite some time. They are terracotta that have been glazed all over except for the base and can be used in the oven, on the stove top and as serving dishes.  I love cookware that needs to be seasoned such as paella pans and cast iron; the ritual of the seasoning process makes the dish seem all the more special.  The cazuelas needed to be soaked in water for 12 hours before rubbing the unglazed base with a garlic clove (a tradition apparently!), rubbing olive oil on the inside of the dish and baking them in a low oven for 1 1/2 hours.  I started this process immediately on Christmas day which meant that they were all ready for their first tapas feast on boxing day.

To start our banquet we had Pinchos (things on skewers) called Gilda…named after Rita Hayworth’s legs according to Sam and Sam Clark who wrote Morito…I have no idea why and they don’t seem to know either! Despite their lack of resemblance to legs (probably a good thing!), they are very tasty.  They consist of a pickled chili, green olive, anchovy fillet and a cocktail onion on a stick…a wonderful combination of flavours – the sharpness of the onion with the saltiness of the anchovy, the slight bitterness from the olive and the heat of the chili…delicious with a Bicicleta cocktail from the same book (a mix of Campari and white wine and we jazzed ours up with a glace cherry on a stick…very fancy!).


The next dish is simply called Marinated Mushrooms from “The Complete Spanish Cookbook” by Pepita Aris.  The mushrooms are marinated in a mix of sherry, onion, garlic and tomato paste and are served cold.  These were very nice on sliced baguette or just popped straight into the mouth.


The “Food of Spain” by Claudia Roden has a lovely recipe for Tomatoes Stuffed with Tuna.  This is a pretty basic recipe which consists of stuffing tomato shells with a mix of cooked onion and garlic, tuna in olive oil and black olives and baking them in the oven for 20 minutes.  Despite the basic ingredients they are very flavoursome and are pretty quick to assemble.


The Complete Spanish Cookbook also had a recipe for Marinated Anchovies which enabled me to use the anchovies that I had in the freezer.  This involved beheading, gutting and removing the bones from each and every anchovy; a much easier process than it sounds (thank goodness!).  The butterflied fish are then marinated in lemon juice and salt for a few hours before being seasoned with garlic, parsley and olive oil.  I was really happy with how well these turned out and they were lovely on a chili oat cracker with a bit of brie.


And finally…”The Food of Northern Spain” by Jenny Chandler has a recipe for Spicy Mussels, another easy but delicious tapas dish.  For the sauce I was able to use the innards from the tomatoes that I stuffed earlier so there was no wastage.  Again, the sauce was very nice to scoop up with some sliced baguette…all very tasty and decadent and a bit tipsy by the time we got to the mussels with a few extra cocktails under our belts!  But hey, what a wonderful way to spend the boxing day evening 🙂


The Spanish, Portuguese & Italian Theme Continues

A few weeks ago I had some marinated anchovies in the fridge that I bought at the Medeterranean Food Warehouse deli. Up until now my main method of eating them has been to take them out of the container and put them straight into my mouth…delicious!! But for the last few in the fridge I decided that there must be something slightly more special I could do with them. My cookbooks didn’t offer up much but an online search led me to a delicious looking recipe by Nigel Slater called Penne with Marinated Anchovies. It was very quick and easy to make – just cook up some pasta, briefly fry some chilli and lemon juice then stir that, the anchovies and some parsley through the drained pasta & top with breadcrumbs…a delicious Sunday lunch!

I didn’t have penne but macaroni will do!

The following night I couldn’t resist doing another batch of Tapas, this time for 3 people. I still had the ingredients from my previous tapas feast of just 2 days before and I mixed it up a bit by changing a couple of the dishes. I again made the Empanadillas and the polenta fries (crispy this time – yay!) which I served with a home made tomato sauce. I then made a carrot salad from MoVida and some marinated lamb chops by Morito charred on the griddle pan…very nice (particularly after we put them back on the griddle to finish cooking…whoops!).

The tapas spread!
MoVida’s carrot salad
Morito’s charred lamb chops

When browsing through Morito looking for tapas recipes I saw a very nice sounding dish called Mushroom & Prawn Rice with porcini mushrooms. It’s similar to a risotto and a paella except  that it’s meant to be a bit wetter. Mine turned out a bit drier & stickier than it was supposed to be but it still tasted very good.

Served with Romanesco with Rosemary, Garlic, Lemon and Pecorino a la Nigellissima

And finally I made Portuguese bean stew again, this time served with sweet and sour cabbage (cavolo nero) and peas with prosciutto (except I didn’t bother with the prosciutto and I ran out of peas so had to sub in some edamame beans), both out of my Flavours of Tuscany book.

It doesn’t look very appealing but it is very flavoursome and delicious. That is also the Saltless Tuscan bread you can see on my plate…except this time I put salt in it and it was much nicer!!

I’m usually a bit lazy when it comes to doing side dishes, often because the main event seems so time-consuming that I run out of steam for everything else so it’s good to learn a few easy ways to zhoosh up veges. And now I must confess that this is the end of my Spanish, Portuguese and Italian theme…so it only lasted a couple of weeks rather than a couple of months!! I just can’t resist my other recipe books and the other ingredients in my cupboard!!

Tapas Night!

For a while now I’ve liked the idea of cooking tapas and would love to do them for a dinner party some time…however I’m put off by the fear that I’ll spend the whole night in the kitchen trying to cook multiple recipes and stressing out amongst piles of dirty dishes!

So on Saturday night when it was just Andrew and myself at home (ie. very few people to feed with no time pressures!) I cooked my first tapas meal.

The first tapa on the menu was Whole Sardines Baked in a Salt Crust from “MoVida”…unfortunately the fish shop had run out of sardines so I had to buy anchovies instead…as you can imagine the anchovies didn’t have quite as much flesh on them and were a lot more fiddly to eat.  But it was still fun!

Anchovies oven ready
Wrapped in their nice soft bed of egg whites and salt…
Anchovies cooked
Their bed is not so soft anymore and needs to be broken apart
Anchovies in dish
Released from their salt crust & ready for eating!

As I said above, they were very fiddly to eat. They weren’t gutted so we had to avoid the innards (which were very bitter!) & peel the tiny fillets from the bones!

Anchovies deep fried
We tried deep frying a few anchovies too which worked really well!

The second item on the menu was smoky polenta fries from “Jerusalem”. I’ve made these once before when I didn’t have a deep fryer & they were a bit soggy so I was keen to try them again. Second time around…they were a bit soggy! The recipe doesn’t say how hot the oil should be & it was my first time using the deep fryer…I now know that the oil should have been at 190 degrees, not 170 degrees…they were still tasty though 🙂

Polenta fries
2nd generation soggy polenta fries!
Full ensemble course 1
A view of the first round of tapas…lookin’ good!

The next tapa dish was the Pumpkin Roasted with Sage & Onion dish that I cooked last week from “The Flavours of Tuscany”. This is quick to put together and cooked while Andrew and I ate the first course.

Pumpkin with balsamic
Pumpkin with balsamic vinegar drizzled over the top…yum!

So…time to cook the last two courses!

Me working hard
Me hard at work in my slippers (or my baffies as Andrew would say)!

The last two tapas were Empanadillas and Mushrooms with Garlic and Sherry Vinegar, both from “MoVida”. The Empanadillas are mini empanadas filled with aioli, tuna & piquillo peppers…so good! The pasty has fino sherry in it which tastes amazing!

Beautiful, crispy empanadillas…delicious!

The mushrooms are cooked in oil before having various flavourings added to the pan including thyme and butter. The pan is then placed in the oven for 8 minutes before being returned to the stove top to really intensify the flavour…beautiful and flavoursome.

You can see the intensity of flavour leaping off the plate!
Full ensemble course 3
The final round of tapas…getting full now!

We started eating at about 7.30pm and finished 3 hours later! It was a very enjoyable way to spend an evening and it was not as difficult as I thought it would be.  After making these recipes I can see that there are many things I could do in advance if I wanted to do this for a dinner party.  The other thing I learnt is that it’s important to get a good balance between quick easy dishes and those that are slightly more substantial and time consuming.  With my tapas confidence boosted I’m ready for more!

Feasting in Melbourne!

In yesterdays post I mentioned that my husband Andrew and I have been to Melbourne recently.  Melbourne is a foodies paradise and while we were there we ate some beautiful food. I was going to share just a few of those meals in this post but as I started looking through the photos I couldn’t help but put them all in!  You’ll be pleased to know that I forgot to take photos of some of our meals so there could have been more!  Get ready to feel envious!

The first place we ate at is a cafe called Stagger Lee in Fitzroy.  The drinks we are enjoying with our lunch are deliciously spicy Bloody Marys.

Frank & Beans – saffron baked beans, smoked ham hock, chorizo, soft poached eggs, herb & garlic crumb with toast
Shrooms ‘n’ Truffles – pan roasted local pine mushrooms, truffled polenta, confit egg yolk, pecorino pepato & farmhouse toast

I had never heard the term “pepato” before but on googling it I found that:

  1. Pepato is a semi-hard sheep milk cheese with peppercorns. Pepato (or Pecorino pepato) has its main origin in Sicily where it is part of the regional cooking. Source – good old Wikipedia!

On day two I tracked down an Adriano Zumbo cake kiosk in a mall in the city centre where I bought two macarons…these were not as good as I was expecting them to be but I loved the names of the flavours.

Adriano Zumbo macarons – malted milkshake & salted caramel on toast

Later that day we had lunch at a Spanish tapas restaurant called MoVida.  It had a great atmosphere and the food…was…amazing!  It was so good that we weren’t able to eat anything else for the rest of the day!

Anchovy and smoked tomato sorbet
Anchoa – Hand-filleted Cantabrian Artisan Anchovy on 
Crouton with Smoked Tomato Sorbet
Chicken escabeche
Pollo Escabache al Miguel – Spiced Chicken Escabache Tapa on Crisp Crouton
Sea snail
Caracol de Mar – braised Spring Bay sea snails in Basque green sauce
Half quail
Cordoniz – roasted half jumbo quail with tocino, sprouts and chestnuts

Once again referring to google and the mighty wikipedia I have just discovered that tocino is bacon made from pork belly.

Morcilla with slow poached eggs
One of the days Specials – Morcilla with bacon, garlic breadcrumbs, parsley & slow coooked eggs
Ox tongue
Lengua – chargrilled ox tongue pincho with romesco
Bistec Tartar de Wagyu – Spicy Steak Tartare of Raw, Grass-fed Wagyu Beef with quail yolk & crostini

So surprise surprise…after having no dinner the night before we were really ready for a nice cooked breakfast!  We were staying in St Kilda and came across a trendy looking place called Sorsi e Morsi that seemed to be popular with the locals who were there with their dogs and their families.

Poached eggs with mushrooms stuffed with truffled sausage
Roman’s Breakfast – poached eggs, speck on ciabatta fingers, flat mushroom filled with truffled sausage, parmigiano, ciabatta
Marinated trout with goats cheese, poached egg and guacamole
Oceano – marinated trout with feta, home made guacamole & poached egg on sourdough bread

For dinner that night we booked in for an 8pm sitting at a restaurant called Saint Crispin which won Best New Restaurant in the Timeout awards in 2014.  The service here was amazing and the food was fantastic!  We had the 5 course chef’s tasting menu so we didn’t know what we would get but we weren’t disappointed.

Appetizer Saint Crispin
Salt cod cream on a light crisp, caramelized onion cream cheese, sea salt butter and white bread
Salt baked celeriac, goats curd, dill marscapone, apple crumble, green sauce and nasturtium
Kingfish, oyster and fennell
Hiramasa Kingfish, squid, oyster, roquette, thinly sliced fennel and caramelised yuzu
Calfs tongue with oxtail tortollini
Tortellini of oxtail, a sliver of calf tongue, lentils, bacon and brussel sprouts, with slices of radish and a chicken foam
Miso Pork belly
Ballarat miso pork belly with crackling, a disk of pork hock, charred bok choy leaves, nashi kimchi and shitake with a coin of parsnip and miso pork broth
Chocolate mousse with rosemary ice cream
Chocolate custard, dark chocolate mousse, rosemary ice cream, pureed cumquat, roasted hazelnuts and a chocolate crumb

To finish at Saint Crispin they gave us each a green matcha macaron with a vanilla cream filling.  Soooo full!

The following evening we went to another 8pm sitting at a Cantonese restaurant called The Flower Drum.  This restaurant won the Legend Award in the 2014 Timeout awards for being consistently great over its 40 years of existence.  When waiting to be seated we noticed that they were in the top 50 restaurants in the world at one stage.  One of the best things about Flower Drum was the ceremony that went in to everything.  For example, they brought the food out to a trolley next to our table and dished it up with a flourish onto two plates so that we could share each of the dishes.

Hand picked mud crab
Hand picked mud crab meat with ginger and spring onions served on vermicelli noodles in a clay pot
Egg roll
Steamed silken egg parcel with scallop, prawn, shiitake mushroom and water chestnut

I forgot to take a photo of the marinated jellyfish with sesame dressing…it had an amazing texture…soft but with a bit of give when you bite into it.

Peking duck
Peking Duck – roast duck, wrapped in pancake with cucumber, spring onion & plum sauce (in the shape of a duck!)
Sichuan pork
Sliced pork in Sichuan sauce with fried tofu and capsicum with snow peas

I know I shouldn’t really include this next image because it’s half eaten and not looking very appetizing but it didn’t feel right to not include the full set!

Beef brisket with bean curd
Braised Flinders Island Saltgrass lamb brisket with bean curd, ginger, water chestnut red date & baby spinach

This dessert was served in front of me and was quite a show!

Peking toffee apple
Peking toffee apples with cinnamon ice cream
Tea and biscuits
Almond biscuits with Pu-erh tea to finish (a digestive tea and boy did we need it!)

These final two photos are from a very unexpected find in Chapel Street.  We decided to pop into a place that looked like a coffee shop (mainly because I needed to use the facilities!) but when we sat down they gave us some menus and a wine list.  We weren’t very hungry but thought, oh well, maybe we’ll have a wine instead of a coffee (we were on holiday afterall!)…and then as we looked around at the food people were eating it wasn’t long before we decided to order some of it for ourselves.  The place was called Kin Vietnamese and if I lived in Melbourne I would definitely go back for more and more!

Spring rolls 2
Prawn and crab spring rolls served with lettuce, pickled carrots, Vietnamese mint and fish sauce (the best spring rolls I’ve ever eaten!)
Beef Cerviche
Beef Ceviche – thinly sliced rare beef cooked in citrus juice, tossed with white and purple cabbage, carrots, finely sliced onion, Vietnamese mixed herbs, ground rice grains, and finished with splashes of fish sauce and lemon juice (so fresh and tasty)

So that is some of the food we ate on our 5 days in Melbourne…not a bad effort!  And yes…I did come back with some new cookbooks…but how could I resist when they have a bookshop in Melbourne totally dedicated to cookbooks?!