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Posts Tagged ‘Spain’

I’m still buzzing from last night’s Mi Casa dinner. I was very excited to be heading there for the second event after the roaring success of the first, though I have to admit to feeling slightly nervous that it wasn’t going to live up to the experience we’d had on the first occasion. I needn’t have been.

I’m in awe of Kristjan, Alexis and the team behind Mi Casa. The dedication, hard work and passion they put into running the restaurant for the evening is incredible and they make it look so easy and effortless. A completely calm exterior may have been hiding a lot but it led to everyone feeling at ease, welcomed, and ultimately what I’m sure they wanted to achieve, at home.

Last night’s food followed a Moorish theme – Spanish with a North African twist – not dissimilar to one of my favourite London restaurants, Moro. It was exquisite. I’m going to simply let the photos do the talking.   

   

                         

                             

Is it out of the realm of possibility that pop up restaurants could be awarded Michelin stars? In what could be the new ‘pop up restaurant’ category, if they haven’t been met already, Mi Casa is definitely not far off meeting the five criteria considered in awarding stars: quality of ingredients, skill in preparing them and combining flavours, level of creativity, consistency of culinary standards and value for money.

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The Moro Cookbook is the first of three cookery books by the chef-owners of the well-known and award-winning Moro restaurant in London, Samantha and Samuel Clark. 

The book focuses on the husband and wife team’s passion for Spanish, North African and Eastern Mediterranean food. Simple dishes with robust flavours and a Spanish influence are combined with those which are more exotic, fragrant, delicately spiced and Arabic in nature.

The combination of Spanish and North African cuisine is not a surprising one given Spain’s history. The invasion of Spain by the Moors influenced much of the Iberian Peninsula – the religion, architecture and undoubtedly the food. 

That the recipes extend from such a wide-reaching geography makes for an exciting collection to match many a mood, budget and appetite; classic tapas and mezze dishes, hearty, peasant-style meals, rich meat and offal platters, delicate fish suppers and indulgent puddings. 

Of course, there are recipes for favourites such as tortilla, chorizo al jerez (chorizo with sherry), baba ghanoush, tabbouleh and pollo al ajillo (chicken cooked with bay, garlic and white wine) but there are also some more surprising and interesting recipes like quail baked in flatbread with pistachio sauce, cod baked with tahini or bitter chocolate, coffee and cardamom truffle cake. 

Some of the ingredients are mystifying and, for anyone outside of London, could be difficult to source. The lack of photographs amongst the recipes and almost 70’s look to those which are there mean that it’s quite difficult to imagine how some of the more unusual or unfamiliar dishes should look. Don’t be put off, once past these first hurdles, the recipes are quite simple to follow and the food, for want of a better word, delicious.  

There’s a theme to many of the recipes; stages of long, slow cooking which are well worth pursuing as the result is an intensely flavoured and satisfying meal, even from the simplest of ingredients. The patatas a lo pobre (poor man’s potatoes) is just one such example, sweet, soft and extremely tasty and yet made from just a few ingredients – onions, garlic, bay, green pepper, potatoes, olive oil and seasoning. 

One of the more surprising dishes is the sopa de setas (mushroom and almond soup with fino sherry). What started out as, albeit tasty, mushroom flavoured water was brought alive and thickened by the addition of crushed almonds. 

The Moro Cookbook helps us reach a true understanding of Moorish food, an often over-looked and under-appreciated cuisine.

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It was my brother’s turn to host Christmas this year and with his first baby due at any moment it could have been an interesting one. As it happened the bump was quite content to stay tucked up and pig out with us so we managed to finish Christmas dinner without a trip to the maternity ward!

My family aren’t turkey fans so it’s quite normal to see a duck, goose or a ham on our festive table. My brother had decided he’d like to do something even more unusual this year and thought a Spanish-themed meal would do the trick. With a helping hand from a glass or two of Prosecco and his little sis, and the loan of mum and dad’s kitchen and dining room he pulled off a brilliant Christmas dinner.

Unfortunately we were all too eager to tuck in to dinner that we completely forgot to take any photos so you’ll have to take my word for it that it all looked, as well as tasted, amazing.

We started with raciones of albondigas (meatballs in tomato sauce), gambas al ajillo or gambas al pil pil as they’re sometimes known (prawns with garlic and chilli), pinchitos morunos (pork kebabs) and patatas bravas (fried potatoes in spicy tomato sauce).

My brother was hoping to have done too much so he could savour the leftovers on Boxing Day but more fool him for not having hidden any away before serving. All bowls and plates were well and truly wiped (though not quite licked) clean!

Now, I said my brother had a helping hand from his little sis. That comprised of shopping for and cooking the main course! To continue his Spanish theme I opted for slow roasted belly pork with a smoked paprika rub, roasted smoked garlic, and chorizo and black pudding stuffing.

Not wanting to stray too far from the traditional, I served the pork with roast potatoes (roasted in goose fat of course!), roasted carrots and parsnips with thyme and garlic and shredded spouts with bacon, garlic and rosemary. 

I handed the stove back to my brother for his trio of desserts! Christmas pudding for dad (the only one who’ll eat it!), and for the rest of us a choice of Christmas spiced apple crumble or an old family favourite,  chocolate puddle pudding. I have no problem taking credit for bringing the English classic back in line with the Spanish theme with the addition of cinnamon in the chocolate sauce!

Stuffed!

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November has been a month of two foodie firsts for us. Our first underground supper club experience a couple of weekends ago and, last night, our first dinner at a pop up restaurant.

The pop up phenomenon hit London some time ago and has been going strong with restaurants appearing for one night only on barges, in warehouses and disused buildings. You name it, someone is sure to have the skills, the foresight and the contacts to be able to turn it into a chic and exclusive dining venue.

Last night was, as far as we’re aware, the first pop up to hit Bristol. Our chef for the evening was Alexis, by day a chef at Papadeli, and front of house was run by Kristjan, formerly manager of the Riverstation and now teacher at the Bordeaux Quay cookery school. The surprising venue was a scout hut on the waterside, the Benjamin Perry Boathouse at Phoenix Wharf, where we joined around 40 other guests for a Spanish-themed meal.

The team of three girls in the kitchen and two guys front of house must have been working like trojans to pull off the meal and service with such high quality and class. Hampered by traffic delays because of the bad weather and starting late, you’d have never have known they were so far behind schedule getting ready for service.

As guests arrived, the buzz in the room grew louder and the Spanish guitarist began to play and sing. The atmosphere was in warm contrast to the freezing weather outside.

The dining experience was communal – we were sat on long tables and the food arrived on boards and in large bowls to be passed around and shared, with neighbours helping to serve each other.

Our four course meal consisted:

  • Tapa of aubergine caviar with flatbread, piquillo peppers stuffed with goats cheese and pine nuts, braised squid with potato
  • Cocido of chicken, beef and chorizo with a romesco sauce, chick peas, savoy cabbage and butternut squash, fennel and orange salad
  • Seville orange cake with Pedro Ximenez soaked raisins and cream
  • Manchego and membrillo

The aubergine was heady with garlic and silky smooth, the sweet Spanish peppers, which are charred over wood and peeled by hand, were delicious with the tangy goats cheese and the squid, which had been braising for hours, was deliciously tender and fragrant with orange.

Cocido is a national Spanish dish with many regional variations. It is a rustic stew with a light stock, simmered for a long time until the meat falls off the bones. This version happily transported me back to my time living in Northern Spain.

                               

The cake was moist and topped with caramelised Seville orange zest and the plump raisins were bursting with sherry as you bit into them. The cheese and quince jelly were the perfect end to this sumptuous Latino banquet.

The evening drew to a close with guests writing comments and leaving contact details for the hosts on a large makeshift board with a view to being invited to the next Bristol pop up in the, hopefully, not too distant future.

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Working my way through the Moro Cookbook I came across a recipe for pollo al ajillo, a favourite from my six month stay in Northern Spain, a now scary number of years ago when I was at University. It’s such a simple and amazingly tasty dish – I don’t understand why I haven’t been cooking it regularly ever since I first tasted it. I’m going to rectify that by adding it to our list of trusty quick weeknight suppers. Note to self: check if either of us has a meeting the next day before freely adding to the pan the bulb (not clove!) or two of garlic the recipe calls for!

Pollo al ajillo is a classic Spanish way of cooking chicken pieces. It uses very few ingredients – chicken, garlic, bay leaves, olive oil, white wine, water, salt and pepper. The trick is to emulsify the chicken juices, wine, water and olive oil to create a silky sauce.

And to go with the chicken – to be honest some crusty bread or roast potatoes along with a little green salad would be perfect – I chose another classic dish, moros y cristianos. Moros y cristianos is often served on its own when being frugal but works equally well as an accompaniment to chicken, duck and other meats as well as fish.

Translated to English, the name is Moors and Christians. This rice and bean dish originates from the time when the Moors occupied the Iberian Peninsula. The black beans represent the Moors and the white rice represents the Christians. It’s still a popular dish today. There are many variations of this recipe, some with a Cuban spicy twist, others, like the one in the Moro cookbook, quite simply flavoured with cinnamon, garlic, onion and bay.

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