Sunday, 30 June 2013

Soup Sunday: pumpkin and morcilla

Soup Sunday was feeling feverish (and lazy) this week and the inspiration was taken from the pumpkin and morcilla dish we had in El Chorro. I still had some morcilla lurking on the freezer from when I made Fabada Asturiana and this is where it ended its days.

I roasted the pumpkin with the onion and garlic in the oven pepper (175°)  sprinkled with oil, salt and pepper as I like the roasting lends to veggies, but you can just as well cube the flesh and cook it in a pan which is a lot quicker way.

Morcilla could be substituted with a robust blood pudding though those with aversion to the elixir of life can also sprinkle some rustic croutons (the nuttiness of whole meal bread works best) and toasted pumpkin seeds (to avoid wasting anything!) in the soup.

For 2

1 pumpkin (appr. 600 g)
1 onion
2 garlic cloves
4-5 dl chicken or vegetable stock
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves (or allspice)
salt, pepper

100 g morcilla or blood pudding OR
1 slice of whole meal bread and the seeds of the pumpkin

Cut the pumpkin in half. Remove the seeds and cut the insides into cubes.Cut the onion into thin rings - save a couple for decoration. Soften the chopped onion and garlic in some oil and add the pumpkin cubes. Let them colour a bit and then add the stock. Cook over simmering heat until pumpkin is cooked (about 15 -20 minutes). Blizz until smooth and season. If you want, add a dash of cream and heat (do not cook).

Fry the morcilla or blood pudding slices until they are crisp on the outside. Fry a couple of onion rings in the fat until soft. Serve with the soup.

If making croutons, cut the bread into cubes. Fry in a bit of oil in a pan until crisp on the outside. Towards the end scatter the cleaned seeds in until they, too, brown a bit.

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Saturday, 29 June 2013

From Emmerdale to Ardales

Ardales, a short drive from El Chorro, is a small town sprawling on the hills around a church that traces its history back to the 16th century. It is guarded by the remains of a historic Ardales castle, built by none other than that ancient anarchist and rowdy rebel Umar ibn Hafsun.

The roots of the villages go back a looooong time. The name, originally Ard-Allah, God's gardens, dates back to Moorish times. The church is the focal point of this town and its tower is visible form everywhere in the village. Originally the site hosted a mosque and the church tower, made of glazed tiles glistening in the sun in glorious shades of blue and green, is actually the minaret from the old mosque.

The Gentleman has a house in Yorkshire in the middle of those breathtakingly beautiful farmlands of Dales. Ardales isn't too far behind either...


A couple of kilometres away there's a cave that was discovered in 1821 after an earthquake in the region. Other than that there isn't anything terribly unique about this village that would set it apart from the other white villages scattered all over Andalusian hills.

But on the other hand... that's exactly where the charm of these places lays . Time seems to stand still. Old men gather in the parks and in the shades of terraces, playing cards and putting the world to right - just as they've always done.

Yet the atmosphere is full of life that is transported onto the narrow streets in the sounds and scents flowing from the open windows and doors, for a moment pulling the passer-by into the lives of their residents. At Garcias little Antonio should go wash his hands; at Gils someone should let the dog out. Gonzaleses are having a laundry day and at Hernandezes abuela is cooking... oooh - seems like it's albondigas for supper tonight! 

And though these are exactly the kind of places one would expect to be insular and treat "outsiders" with suspicion, that is not the case. In a way that my Finnish mentality finds peculiar - though for The Gentleman it's the most natural thing in the world - these are the places where even strangers are greeted with a warm smile. Buenas dias for you, too, mis amigos!
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Friday, 28 June 2013

On that grand scale of things

Luckily we had that car in El Chorro - otherwise we just might have missed Bobastro. Though that's what we almost did and stumbled upon it by sheer accident.

Bobastro is an archeological site located near El Chorro. It was the headquarters of a rebel leader Umar ibn Hafsun who fled here with his supporters at the end of the 9th century. This being the time before Facebook, LinkedIn and Wikipedia, the guy's background is a bit blurry. Apparently though, in spite of his name, he was a Christian and a bit of an anarchist, too.

He rebelled against The Umayyad Dynasty that at the time ruled Andalusia and was particularly pissed off at their treatment of the Christian population and the heavy taxes that were imposed on them (France, are you listening?) He also fortified the nearby town of Ardales and acquired land and castles all over the county. The remains of a church he built in Bobastro, apparently inspired by the local hermit Christian community, are still there today.

The signs along the path that lead to the ruins paint a very exciting picture of this era in Andalusian history, but there really isn't too much to see here. Unless you're a hardcore history buff. Though the entry is only a couple of euros...

But the rugged scenery around Bobastro and El Chorro tells of history too. And of a lot more ancient kind. All the lessons I happily ignored at school about the continental plates and glaciers and millions and millions of years it took for our part of the world to reach its shape are so evident here. The mountains still scarred from those events; the landscape formed by the roughest of artists - the nature itself. It is humbling (even for a drama queen like me) and does put things into proportion.

In the history of this Universe of ours we humans have been out and about for such a little while. Somehow the world survived without us. In the timeline of our planet, spanning over tens of millions of years (unless you're a Republican from the Bible Belt, of course, in which case it's only a couple of thousands of years, right?) man is but a petulant little child, still in his diapers. Though, the destruction and decline man has maanaged to inflict in that short time is nothing short of remarkable.

I am a child of the digital era and the quality of my every day life is largely built on the achievements of the modern technology (helloooo, Blogger!) Yet... they are very recent arrivals and somehow people managed to go about their lives before them.


Being the romantic fool and an arts and farts graduate that I am, my  humanist within seems hell-bent on believing that essentially we, people, are still the same - that something fundamental about us has survived through the colourful history, changes, progress, rebellions, various social systems and technological advancements.

I remember back in Uni working on a translation of a note a worker on the site that was to become the Valley of the Kings, the final resting place for the rulers of the ancient Egypt, had scribbled on a wall somewhere venting his angst (again - this was before Twitter). He was wailing how he was so ill there wasn't a remedy in sight; so ill that no doctor could help him. And all this because he hadn't see his loved one in five whole days... But the moment he'd lay his eyes on her again, he'd be fine again.

Love, people. Love.

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Thursday, 27 June 2013

El Lunch at El Chorro

After all those outdoor pursuits in El Chorro my feet were aching (what was I thinking wearing what I was wearing?), my mouth felt like Sahara (what was I thinking not bringing more water?), my skin was ready to fall off (what was I thinking not wearing any sunscreen?) and my hungry stomach was making noises so loud they would have put AC/DC to shame. It was clearly time to silence the nagging voices at the back of my head over some lunch.

For that traveller is not exactly spoilt for choice. There's Refuge, a rock climbing club whose blackboard advertised mojito as their daily special. Then there's the tiny bar next to El Chorro station where abuela (Granny) rustles up burgers, stuffed baguettes and home-made chorizo. Charming, in its rustic way. Then there's La Garganta, an idyllic hotel-restaurant that looks like an old-fashioned sanatorium somewhere in the Alps. It balances on the cliff enjoying some spectacular views over the area.

I happily admit to being somewhat sceptic. If that's the competition, would the restaurant even feel the need to make an effort? Would it be sloppy, yet pretentious  establishment full of its own (smugly perceived) supremacy? Luckily my over-active imagination - bordering on paranoid - was soon proven wrong.

The restaurant isn't exceptionally outstanding, but as I was admiring the views underneath the canopy of the vines, providing much-needed shade in the scorching sun, with the warm wind caressing my skin, the chilled wine refreshing my throat and my dear Gentleman smiling across the table...things really couldn't have been much better.

Food was good quality but fuss-free and prepared with tangible and wonderful appreciation for the local produce and traditions. To start with we had a selection of local meats, vegetable tempuras with that gorgeous local honey and morcilla, local blood pudding with roasted pumpkin. 

Tempuras weren't exactly a home-run. We couldn't decide whether they actually had cheese in them or whether the batter was simply so thick it hadn't had the chance to cook all the way through. The light crispness that makes tempura tempura however was tragically missing.  The meats were superb and the sweetness of the roasted pumpkin (with a hint of cinnamon?) balanced the earthiness of morcilla nicely. The result was as comforting as being cradled on mother's arms. 

The portions were generous to say the least and we definitely weren't hungry after all that. The Gentleman has already made a habit of pointing to me (as subtly as he can) how my blog states that "everything should be tried, though not necessarily over one meal" . But the mains look to tempting to pass!

Pork loin with Serrano ham, rabbit stew with orange, leg of pork...In the end - and without a doubt inspired by the baahing sounds of the goats on the pastures in the valley below us - I settled for roasted kid goat. Which was beautifully fatty, succulent and delicious. The potatos on the side were (as they usually are) a bit of a disappointment: they could have been roasted in the fat dripping from the goat, resulting in roasties so crispy and crunchy on the outside and so dreamily light and fluffy on the inside...

After the meal there was only two words to describe how I was feeling: utter bliss. The only way the day could have turned any better was if we could have laid down by the pool for some siesta... but home and our own pool were calling. 

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Wednesday, 26 June 2013

El Chorro - active holidaymaker's paradise

In the end we did get to El Chorro, too. This time we took our own car, thanks to which we got to explore the area a lot more thoroughly. Train is a brilliant way to get here though as the El Chorro station is located right in the middle of the nature reserve.

El Chorro is a haven for the outdoorsy types and has plenty of wow factor in store for hikers, canoists and mountain bikers. The steep walls of Los Gaitanes make this place particularly popular among rock climbers. And what better destination for someone with fear of heights... Luckily half of us was dresses appropriately for the day's ventures.

French pedicure and golden sandals - the appropriate attire for EVERY occasion...

In addition to the free roaming the nature reserve has 2 marked trekking routes - the other is about 45 minutes long and the other about half an hour. The first one comes with a bit of a climb, with views to match.

The hills of this nature reserve are also home to numerous animals and plants - some of them protected. The foodblogger/ amateur horticulturalist was also thrilled to discover several wild herbs - I recognized at least rosemary, sage and wild thyme. 

El Chorro is famous for the gorge of Los Gaitanes, which brings together 3 rivers that flow through Malaga. Before the dam was built here, the annual floods brought on by the rain were nothing short of legendary. 

Railway built halfway through 1850's finally linked Malaga to the rest of the country. The tracks ran through the tunnels carved into the rocks and are still in use today.

The building of the canal started in 1901. During the project a narrow maintenance walkway, resting on steel beams hacked into the rock, was built. In the honour of King Alfonso XIII's visit to the site in 1921 the pathway was named Kings Pathway. Unlike on many similar and equally dangerous constructions sites around the world, this labour was not performed by prisoners forced to put their lives at risk, but the skilled workmen were recruited (among other places) from the local port. 

Views from the walkway would, without a doubt, still be very royal indeed, but unfortunately due to part of it collapsing, the path is no longer in use (just what my acrophobia wants to hear...)

Not that it's enough to put these dare-devils off. I do wonder what sort of travel insurances they have...?

Day in El Chorro is enough to burn off all those churros - all that trekking makes one break some serious sweat. And those sandals of mine never never did make through the day. But it is beautiful here - to a point I'm going to defy all clichés and call the atmosphere paradise-like.

No wonder it has fuelled young (*sighs*) love...

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Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Duck a l'orange

My career in domestic goddessing has not been without its glitches. Once I set The Gentleman's oven on fire. Another time I burnt one of his beloved Le Creuset pots as I was caramelizing carrots (?) for sushi (?!). Bent knives remind of my "we don't need any of those Japanese miracle knives they sell on QVC that cut through soda cans and soles of shoes"- attempts to saw cubes of frozen seafood. The all time low would still probably have to be the time I gave him a food poisoning.

At one point some years ago there was a legendary recipe circulating in American glossies called "The Engagement Chicken". It was named that because it was so good and comforting in a way only a  home-cooked meal is that several women who cooked it for their significant others were proposed to as the men realized this was exactly the kind of woman they wanted to spend the rest of their lives with.

I approaches this challenge with carelessness and always-as-elegant "how hard can that be"- attitude. Well, featuring an entire bird, very. I went on waiting for that proposal for another four years - that night we were both far too busy running to the loo...

Since then The Gentleman has been in charge of cooking endeavours of that scale. I have strived to keep mine smaller (both in scale and in ambition...)

Duck is my favourite dead animal and one we eat quite often - it, too, being so cheap in Spain. Around Christmastime shops sell whole ones and even those sell for €10.

Duck in orange sauce is so retro it just might be downright tragic. Though mine is´n't very sweet but in it's spiciness rather Christmasy. Perhaps this marks its comeback...?

For 2

2 duck breasts (appr. à 350 g)
salt, pepper

Orange Sauce

4 dl chicken stock
2 dl freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tsp orange marmalade (not sweet)
2 tsp grated orange zest
1 cinnamon stick (or 1/2 tsp cinnamon)
1/2 tsp cardamom
2 cloves
1/4 tsp ginger (dried is fine)
1 tbsp sugar
knob of butter
salt, pepper

Take the duck ito room temperature at least an hour in advance. Heat the oven 200°.

Pat the ducks dry, score the fat side with a sharp knife almost all the way through to the meat. Season. Put the duck in a cold pan, fat side down and then start bringing the heat up.This way the fat melts, keeping the duck moist but without burning. Once the fat side has a good, brown colour, turn around and cook the other side until beautifully browned. Move the duck in the oven and continue cooking for 4-8 minutes, depending on the desired doneness. I like mine very rosé, so I'm a 4-minute-girl.  Wrap the duck in foil and let rest for 10 minutes. This gives the meat and the juices the chance to recollect their composure (a.k.a. redistribute the juices evenly)  and stay moist.

In the meanwhile make the sauce. Pour the stock and the juice into a pan with the spices and cook over fairly high heat until it starts reducing. Add marmalade (mine was tangy kind, but if you must use the sweet one, you might want to tone it down with a little dash of soy sauce) and sugar. Whisk until smooth and run through a sieve. Add orange zest, check taste, season as/ if needed and add a know of butter to round up the flavours and to add a nice sheen to it.

Serve the duck with sauce and roasties (that duck fat rocks when frying potatos!) or grilled veg. Such as asparagus.

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Monday, 24 June 2013

Lemony risotto with asparagus and prawns

The asparagus theme continues - today's entry: risotto. Sure, risotto isn't necessarily the lightest dish for summer... but let's face it: it is gooooood.

If the prawns you're using are the whole, raw variety, you might want to cook some shellfish stock from the shells and use it for the risotto, continuing with some fish/seafood stock or fond (2 tbsp for 1/2 liters of water). Remember to keep the stock hot in a pot as you cook the risotto.

For 3-4

3,5 dl risotto rice
9-12 dl fish/ seafood stock
3 shallots/ 1 small onion/ 1/2 of a bigger kind
1 large garlic clove or 2 small ones
1 generous tbsp butter + more to finish
1 bundle of asparagus (appr. 500 g)
500 g king prawns
1 dl white wine
the zest of 1/2 lemon
1 generous tbsp chopped chives

Fry finely chopped onion and garlic in butter. Add rice and stir until translucent. Then add wine. Once it has been absorbed, start adding hot stock, one ladle at a time. Keep stirring. The texture of the finished product should be loose.

Once the rice is almost done (around 20 minutes) fold in the prawns and let the heat cook them.  OR (if using raw ones) grill them until done separately after having tossed them around in a bit of oil, salt, pepper and lemon juice).

Snap off the woody ends of the asparagus, chop them into a couple of centimetre long pieces and and steam them or cook them in a little water until done (about 5 minutes). Fold them into the risotto too. Before serving add a knob of butter into the risotto, along with chopped chives and grated lemon zest. Season to taste and serve. With some chilled white wine. On a sunny terrace. Ooooh, summer...

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Sunday, 23 June 2013

Soup Sunday: curried asparagus

Though it would be lovely to live according to the seasonal products, the reality in a country like Finland would be rather dire.

So, at least I have to make some concessions and accept that sometimes cravings take precedence over the carbon footprint that the pumpkin I just had to have, flown in form Peru, has.

But oh, joy when it's summer and the markets are full of locally grown produce. For a couple of weeks anyway.

In addition to eagerly awaited new potatos there isn't another produce the arrival of which is as keenly anticipated as asparagus.

So lately it has been used in a variety of things - in potato salads and in frittatas. It's only natural that it is the star ingredient of this week's edition of Soup Sunday, too. Special guest appreance is granted for curry - a spice that doesn't often accompany this green goddess.

For 2

1/2 kg green asparagus
1/2 onion (or 1 small one)
1 tsp curry powder
4-4,5 dl chicken stock
1 dl cream
dash of lemon juice
salt, white pepper

Cut off the woodier ends of the asparaguses. Peel the stalks if you want (I don't) and cut into chunks of a couple of centimetres. Keep a couple of buds for decorational purposes and steam them while the soup is cooking. Heat some butter in a pan, add onions and curry powder and let the flavours marry for a while. Then add the asparaguses and let them get in on the action too. Pour in the stock and cook until the asparagus is cooked and soft - about 10-15 minutes. Blizz in a blender, pour back into the pan, add a dash of lemon juice and cream and bring to boil. Add more stock or water if needed. Season and serve with the reserved asparagus tips.

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Saturday, 22 June 2013

Mushroom risotto

I. Love. Mushrooms. It took me a while to warm to them but I sure have been busy making up for the lost time. In my dreams I hop and skip in the woods with an elegant wicker basket dangling off my arm, stumbling upon magnificently meaty delicacies that I then turn into treats raved by my dinner guests.

Of course this fantasy is somewhat clouded by the fact that I would not even know where those mushroom-housing woods can be found and the only wild mushroom I'd even recognize is the one that kills you. After a bout of severe sickness and horrid hallucinations. So, I have no choice but to satisfy my hunting and gathering instincts either at the market in Malaga or in the supermarket.

One of my absolute favourite uses for mushrooms is risotto. You can use pretty much any mushrooms for it, but I find the best risotto is a result of a blend of different mushrooms. This time mine was a mix of portobello, brown button mushrooms and Japanese mushrooms the name of which I forgot to write down (but they looked like enokitaki).

For those who the mere idea of making risotto fills with dread: no need. As long as you remember these few things, you're all set. Make sure you get the right rice. Rices are different and Uncle Ben's just won't do. Keep the stock hot in another pot as you make the risotto. Keep stirring. Leisurely though. Only add the next ladel of stock as the previous one has absorbed. Keep the texture loose.


As a main this feeds 3-4, as a side (depending on the portion size) this is enough for 5-6.

appr. 300 g mushrooms 
100 g bacon cubes
3 shallots or 1 regular, smallish onion
4 dl risotto rice
1 dl white wine
1-1,2 l chicken stock
(parmesan for those who like cheese)

Slice the mushrooms and fry in a hot pan. Once the liquid has evaporated and they have a bit of colour, add a knob of butter which will infuse them with flavour, but also gives them a nice sheen.

In another pan fry the bacon until crisp. Then add finely chopped onions and a bit of butter. Once the onion is translucent then add rice. Let cook for a while until translucent and then add the wine. Once it has been absorbed, start adding stock one ladel at a time, only adding the next one after the previous has been absorbed. Continue, stirring, until the rice is creamy and cooked to your liking - about 20-30 minutes. The texture should be loose.

Add a couple of thyme sprigs, a knob of butter and (if you want) a handful of parmesan. The fold in the mushrooms and voilá - that's another food fear conquered!

It is delicious as it is, but also works wonderfully with chocolatey oxtail...

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Friday, 21 June 2013

Rabo de Toro - oxtail with chocolate and beer

I fell for oxtail already in Nerja. The flavour of both meat and the sauce was more intense than that of Cordoba's version, but The Gentleman found it "too vinegary" (?!) The texture of Cordoba's version was more superior, though. My take combines the best of both dishes. I think so, anyway.

It's fairly impossible to get anything too photogenic out of this lump, but it does provide some seriously luscious feasts for the taste buds. The sauce, also thickened by the texture of the oxtail itself is, in its meaty depth and sweetness probably the best thing about this dish.

If I had no manners whatsoever (or didn't exercise any self-censorship) then this is when I'd confess to actually licking the bottom of the pan to get to every last bit of it. These slightly more exotic body parts don't really require any special talent so there's really no need to be afraid. They do take a bit of time, though.

For three

3 large oxtails
3 dl strong stock
3 dl chocolate stout (mine was Young's but I'm sure you could use any stout and add some chocolate)
4 smallish onions
1 parsnip ( about 200 g)
2 carrots (total weight about 200 g)
10 allspice peppercorns
3 bayleaves
1 star anise

Heat the oven to 150 °. Lightly flour the meat and shake off the excess (this helps the meat to brown and crisp nicely, but it also helps thicken the sauce. Fry in a mixture of oil and butter until nicely browned. Add roughly chopped onions and bayleave - let soften a bit. Then add carrot and parsnip, equally roughly chopped. Pour in the stock and beer. Add star anise and bring to boil. Transfer into the oven and cook (covered) for 3-4 hours until the meat is cooked to a point of falling off the bone. Don't worry if you leave it in the oven for even longer  - the liquid will make sure they meat stays juicy. Lift the meat out and keep warm. Run the remains through a sieve, pushing all the bits through back into the pan (don't forget to scrape the puré outside the sieve too!) The sauce should be thick enough now, but if that isn't the case, keep cooking over fairly high heat until it starts reducing. Add a knob of butter and serve with oxtail. Serve with potatos or steamed veg. Ours was (in a very non-Spanish  manner) accompanied with mushroom risotto - recipe for this one in tomorrow's blog!

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Thursday, 20 June 2013

Cordoba on a plate

Upon learning about our plan to go to Cordoba, The Man Upstairs gave us two pieces of advice: stay away from the big squares and eat oxtail. And that is exactly what we did.

We started with Cordoba's most famous dish: Cordoban cold tomato and bread soup salmorejo. This version, as is evident form the colour, has a lot more bread and less tomatoeyness than mine. Bread -lovers, please see the recipe and tips over here.

And of course I had to have some calamari a la planchaa, calamari barbecued with herby oil. So simple, so delicious!

And coroquetas, claro que si... these had ham in them.

One of my personal tapas favourites is Tortillitas de Camarones, fritters made with tiny, tiny shrimp - something I will need to attempt soon myself.

And the meal would not have been complete without rabo de toro, oxtail that they love so much in this part of the country. And it was gloriously succulent...

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