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Recipe: Potato and Leek Soup with Bacon and Kale

Potato & Leek Soup with Bacon & Kale

I have quite a few Christmas recipes up my sleeve, but lets take a break from the chocolate, the alcohol and the spice, and think about a comfortable Christmas lunch for the days before and after the crazy indulgent one. I am thinking soup, and who doesn’t love soup? Nourishing and soothing, soup is what I reach for when I am ill, or when I need comfort. Oh, and toasted sandwiches too.[Read more]

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Salted Caramel Chocolate Truffles

Salted Caramel Chocolate Truffles

Salted Caramel Chocolate Truffles

I wondered about sharing these photos, I really did. I had to rush them before dashing to the airport, and I risked it, and got up at 6am to make them, because I really wanted to share this recipe with you. It is perfect for Christmas. Stress free and it takes a little care but otherwise, just fine, anyone can make these. Of course life and work intervened, and I was too busy in Germany and too tired at the end of every day to do any decent writing. So, here it is now.

Salted Caramel

Salted Caramel

But then the photos, I can’t help but think they look like I dug up some mushrooms and then coated them in fine soil. I can’t worry about this though, isn’t it much better that you get the recipe? And maybe a little reassuring to see that, yeah, you can make truffles, and they might look a little rough, but hey! They are still delicious. There aren’t enough hours in the day and there is plenty of other bothersome things, I shouldn’t worry myself so much about photos of truffles.

Or should I?

Anyway, lets drive on. You must make these. All you need is a little salted caramel from my recent recipe, some cream, some good dark chocolate, and some cocoa, and then we are all set.
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The Story of the Real Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena at Acetaia Pedroni, Emilia Romagna

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Acetaia Pedroni, near Modena

In a small town outside Modena, there is an acetaia called Aceaia Pedroni. Here they make balsamic vinegar, the real balsamic vinegar, and the Pedroni family have been making it in this location since 1862. Now run by Italo, 80 and his wife Franca (who still cooks in the family taverna), they make balsamic vinegar and some wines, including lambrusco and pignoletto (local sparkling wines).

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Italo, with his vinegars

We all know balsamic vinegar, but few of us know the real stuff. The Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (which it must be called by law) takes a minimum of 12 years to mature through a patient process of evaporation and careful management in a family of at least five barrels, called a battery. This process is protected and governed by law, and the vinegar and acetaia are checked by government representatives.

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The barrel batteries

Traditional Balsamic Vinegar starts with grapes, Trebbiano (a white grape) in Acetaia Pedroni’s case. These are gently crushed, now by machine, but before by children primarily, as it needed to be gentle. The grapes are then cooked and reduced to create a grape must. This must is fermented in batteries of barrels, some of which are ancient, as a balsamic barrel is never thrown out, it is repaired, sometimes by putting a new barrel on the outside but always keeping the old barrel, as this is where flavour is. A battery must have a minimum of five barrels, from small to large, each one increasing in size.

The acetaia, complete with confessional. The land used to be owned by the church but it is now owned by a collective of families.

The acetaia, complete with confessional. The land used to be owned by the church but it is now owned by a collective of families and has been for hundreds of years.

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Salted Caramel (Perfect as a Sauce, on Toast, or Just Eating With a Spoon)

Homemade Salted Caramel

Homemade Salted Caramel (it is actually very smooth, but I was rushing this shot to get to the airport, and poured it hot into the glass, don’t do that!}

Christmas is on its way, there is no longer any denying it. I am woefully under prepared, as is my form. I just paid through the nose for my flight home this year for a start, which eats into every other Christmas budget. I guess all of the other ex pats must be very organised this year. After that, there is not a child in the house washed, as we would say at home. (Calm down dear, I haven’t had any children since my last missive, it merely means there is nothing organised and we can’t even see where organised might be, over the horizon).

However, I have some recipes to share that will help you be a bit more organised for Xmas, and that will make me feel a lot better. A good place to start is a lovely salted caramel, and it is something that every cook should have in their armoury besides. It is so easy, as long as you watch over it, as it will burn as soon as you stop to look at it. I burned my first batch this morning, and I have made it many times. Watch it carefully, and it will behave, I promise.

My salted caramel is very simple, and very quick. It is thick, but pourable, and a perfect Christmas condiment. It is a great gift too, if you make it late enough. It will keep in the fridge for a week or so too.

How to eat it? It is a perfect sauce for most desserts. It is superb on toast for a luxurious Christmas breakfast. Or you know, like nutella, you may just want to eat it with a spoon.[Read more]

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Your Guide to Wines for Christmas (Chosen by Me, In Partnership with M&S)

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I recently worked with Marks & Spencer to come up with a selection of wines from their range to give you some inspiration for Christmas. From fine wines to eclectic tipples, some of them are bargains, all are priced well. After all, we want more than one bottle to get us in the festive swing, so I like to buy great value wines as well as something special. I suggest some food too, and as we will all be overwhelmed with Christmas by the time it comes around, something a bit different from the usual festive fare in some cases. It goes without saying, but I had complete free range to do whatever I wanted here, and I was quite impressed with the options. Enjoy!

The Novice – For someone who’s just starting to appreciate wine

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You like wine, but you don’t know too much about it (although I expect you probably know more than you think). You probably let others pick from the list when you are out for dinner, but you are hosting Christmas, and so you would like some lovely wine with it. For you, I recommend the Wine for Every Course (Mixed Case of 6) for £85. Here, Marks & Spencer have put in the leg work, and selected some excellent classic wines. I have also selected some individual bottles so that you could put together your own. Perfect for impressing all of those visiting Christmas relatives!

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Starting with a bright champagne aperitif from Louis Chaurey (perfect with the treacle smoked salmon, bresaola and parma ham I have included with this); Pouilly Foumé from Mathilde de Fouvray, a dry elegant white from the Loire Valley. With hints of lemon, it is 100% Sauvignon Blanc, but it will challenge your perceptions on this grape if you are used to the bigger brand alternatives. An elegant rioja follows, full of ripe fruit flavour and a little spice, Maison du Tastelune Burgundy Pinot Noir offers a very smooth fruity and mellow wine. To finish, two sweets, a Sauternes from L’Or du Ciron to enjoy with dessert and a single harvest Royal Palace Colheita port from 2001, to sip by the fire after dinner. Sweet wine is very under rated. I love to finish my meal with one, sometimes choosing it over a dessert.

The Parents – Your parents or your spouse’s parents, this bottle shows you have a little decorum and distinction!

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When I go home at Christmas, I like things to be simple and easy, but good, of course, and a little bit of a treat. For this selection, I moved up the wine list a little and chose more expensive characterful rich red wines, which we had with lovely dry aged steak (simply spiced with some Calabrian chilli and aromatic with sage). These wines are confident, warm and friendly, with a little spice, and they will keep everyone happy.

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From the new world, the Californian Joseph Swan Zinfandel (£30), a bolshy full flavoured wine with some pepper and fruit, perfect with steak. Also the Hay Paddock Harvest Reserve Syrah from New Zealand (£20), another powerful red but not jammy and overly sweet, which you may think lots of new world syrahs (shiraz) are. Moving up the wine list, for a special meal at home is the Chateauneuf-du-Pape Le Vieux Gres (£39), with lots of food, spice and pepper. I think with wine matching we tend to overthink a little, the best wine to drink with your dinner is the one you have (or want to drink). But also, it helps to think of it almost as a sauce.

The Connoisseur – The person who has their own carafe!

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Well, you are a connoisseur, so you don’t need me to tell you what to drink, but I feel that I need to point you in the direction of Marks & Spencer gold medal winning sparkling wines. Effortless Christmas fizz, for a fuzzy morning. You are welcome. I tried two, the first the Oudinet Cuvée Brut NV (at £25 a bottle, a great price for a good champagne).
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Beef Cheek Chilli

Beef Cheek Chilli

anc Beef Cheek Chilli

Beef cheek chilli is a gorgeous dish. Tender, robust and sublimely yielding, once you do the initial work, it basically cooks itself. The best bit? It is a relatively cheap cut of meat, and has a wonderful deep flavour and texture. Winner. You will find yourself buying this instead of steak for dishes like this, I promise you.

When I first started making chilli, I would make it using minced beef, and yes this is fine, but once I started to experiment with other meat cuts like shin and cheek, I could see that a chilli has much more potential than the one that I was making.

Then there are chillies to think about. I used to make beef chilli with whatever chilli I had, then I progressed to smoky punchy chipotle, and then, with an appetite for more and a geeky drive beneath it, I decided to explore different chilli combinations. Then I could see what all the fuss with chilli was about. Layers of chilli playing with the beef, enhancing it, some bringing searing heat, others smoke and others a low rumble. You can make your beef chilli as hot or as mild as you want, and you can make it really interesting. Chilli can be good, and chilli can be superb. Lets talk about a superb one.

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Beef Cheek Chilli (made with just one cheek on this occasion)

Beef cheeks are a terrific cut of meat. Easier to source now than before, as we all become more aware of cheaper flavourful cuts and the importance of nose to tail eating. Ask your butcher to get some in for you if you can’t find them anywhere, that is what I do. They need long slow cooking, and start firm and obstinate, but under that low gentle heat, they yield gently and let the chillies mix in.

I use three chillies for this dish: chipotle, pasilla and ancho. The chipotle brings smoke and a low throaty rumble, the pasilla is hotter but just medium hot and quite fruity and the ancho is medium hot too, with more of a sweet dried fruit flavour. I use a combination of three, with more chipotle. It results in a nice hot chilli, not in a face melting way but it will definitely warm your cockles on a chilly night.

Beef Cheek Chilli

Beef Cheek Chilli

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Chicken Rendang (In Partnership with Le Creuset)

Chicken Rendang Recipe

Chicken Rendang Recipe

This post was sponsored by Le Creuset. They asked me to write a one pot recipe and to choose one of their pots to cook it in. I fancied something spiced,  slow cooked and full of character,  so I settled on a rendang inspired by my travels to Malaysia. I chose a shallow pot that would aid evaporation, caramelisation and intensification of the sauce  (a 30cm shallow casserole, in lovely Marseille blue). 

Le Creuset Pot in  Marseille Blue

Le Creuset 30cm Shallow Casserole in Marseille Blue

I have been to Malaysia twice in the past year, to the tip of it in Langkawi, and the bottom, Sabah, Borneo. I love it there for many reasons. The monkeys (who can resist?), the rainforests and the gorgeous seas, the sandy beaches and the mangrove trees. Best of all is the food, seasoned with punchy aromatics and a little spice. Where India has spices, Malysia has aroma – galangal, lime leaves, lemongrass, lots of fresh turmeric – and slow cooked tender meats, bright fish, with sometimes funky undertones from fermented fish. For this project, I settled on a chicken (ayam) rendang, the perfect food for a chilly November.[Read more]

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UPDATES: Project Bacon & Eat Like a Girl, the Next Evolution

As one door closes, another opens.

As one door closes, another opens.

This year has been a a year of surprises and challenges. A difficult year, when I look back I see myself overwhelmed, sometimes panicking and all consumed with Project Bacon, but you know what? It is nearly there. We have the final photography days this week and then my creative portion will be almost complete. The rest doesn’t worry me so much. My art director is brilliant, as is my editor, and my book could not be in better hands. I will switch my attention to more practical matters like printing and distribution, which will be a relief after all of the angst that writing a book can bring.

The hardest bit with writing a book is that bit that you should love the most. The manuscript. When in the zone it can be wonderful, but more often than not it is torture. Writers block, panic, fear, too much time alone, constant reassessment of your work, frustration, and ultimately a book that was at times painful to write, but one that you are proud of, and want everyone to have.

Nearly there, still in the trauma portion.

It is clear that I undertook a project much bigger than what I realised, and it wasn’t that I couldn’t do it, but at the same time as I was, everything else became very busy too. And that everything else is what pays my rent, and keeps everything stable, so it is very important too. Project Bacon was always my priority, but it generates no income yet, and in the end has cost much more than I forecast (as with every project, ever, I know).

Looking back now I can see that through pushing myself very hard all year, braving the waves of total overwhelming panic, not sleeping enough, not looking after my health and seeing so much more of the world, and all for work reasons, I am in a much better place now. I look at my work and think, YES, this is where I wanted to be, and it was traumatic getting here but I now see what needs to stay and what needs to go.

There are things that I do, but they are not practical, and they need to stop. I need to work smarter so that I can have more downtime. I still want to be the sole writer here, but I want it to grow, so I am working that out now. This blog is almost 8 years old, and while it has grown with me over the last almost 8 years, it needs to change too. I travel more, and am at home less, and Eat Like a Girl will reflect that a bit more. There will also be more work with sponsored partners (but more content around it as I go). As always I will tell you here first, as I always value your feedback.

Once Project Bacon is complete, all energy becomes refocussed here and also on myself (I have already initiated a health kick which I will share here as I go). Content will be more regular, there will be a kick ass redesign which brings it more up to date, there will be lots more recipes and more travel stories. I have a another project which I will wait to announce in a few weeks, maybe early next year, and things will make a lot more sense then. [Read more]

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Roast Pumpkin, Kale, Feta & Pomegranate Salad

Roast Pumpkin, Kale, Feta & Pomegranate Salad

Roast Pumpkin, Kale, Feta & Pomegranate Salad

Yes, more roast pumpkin. But you probably have some left over from the last recipe, and I bet you are not averse to roasting some more. Or is that just me?

In Winter my salads become a little more robust. More kale than lettuce, wilted or crisped, chunks of pumpkin or similar dense veg, roasted into submission. No salad should be heavy, so I lift mine with spritely dressings, this time a pomegranate molasses and lime dressing with no oil, so you know, healthy and lower calorie (I did say I was going to try, right?). Over this, soothing pops of sharp creamy feta, and then to give it some sparkle, a gorgeous sprinkle of juicy pomegranate seeds.

It is winter? Who cares, when you have this salad? I quite like winter anyway.

Some very pretty lilac kale that I happened upon - but any kale will do

Some very pretty lilac kale that I happened upon – but any kale will do

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[Preview] Sharing Stories: An Italian Dining Experience & an Exclusive 2-4-1 Ticket Offer for Eat Like a Girl Readers (In Partnership with Peroni Nastro Azzurro Alta)

This post was sponsored by Peroni Nastro Azzurro Alta. I attended the preview dinner of Sharing Stories: A New Italian Dining Experience, details of which are here.  The dinner is a once off, on Wednesday 26th November at Daphne’s in London, and includes 3 cocktails, complimentary Peroni Nastro Azzurro Alta, and a bespoke menu created by Daphne’s head chef.  A special 2-4-1 offer is available exclusively for Eat Like a Girl readers. Details are at the end of the post. The dinner is to celebrate the launch of Alta, a new sharing bottle designed to be enjoyed with friends. All photos were provided by Peroni, the editorial is mine.

To showcase the launch of the new Alta bottle, Peroni is hosting an exclusive supper club at Daphne’s in South Kensington. Sharing Stories: An Italian Dining Experience will be a multi course feast created by Daphne’s Head Chef, Michael Brown. It will bring to life the diners’ most memorable Italian experiences through taste, smell and sound. The entire night will be created from the diners’ impressions of Italy, with each course inspired by the guests’ memories. These will also shape the cocktails, décor and music for the evening giving guests an entirely bespoke experience.

Daphne’s, where Sharing Stories will be hosted, is a well respected and very popular restaurant which has been serving classic Italian food in Kensington for 50 years now. The food was very good and plentiful, seven dishes in total, including sensational gamberoni with chilli and garlic, an excellent mushroom risotto and beef carpaccio served with lots of fresh truffle. There was lots of Peroni, served in the new Alta bottle, and the cocktails were twists on classics, with – of course – some Peroni involved.
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Almond Crusted Tuna with Chilli Roast Pumpkin, Wilted Lettuce, Tomato & Curry Leaves

Tina

Almond Crusted Tuna with Chilli Roast Pumpkin, Wilted Lettuce, Tomato & Curry Leaves

Almond crusted tuna frequently pops up my idea periscope when my mind wanders. I first had it in Sicily a few years ago in San Vito Lo Capo, when I was a judge for the International Cous Cous Festival (yes, I really was, and it was bonkers, and a lot of delicious fun). There are many almonds in Sicily, pistachios too, and they appear a lot in the cuisine. Almond crusted tuna was one of my favourite dishes that I tried, a fabulous alternative to breaded fish, the tuna remains crisp and is – obviously – nutty.[Read more]

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A Postcard from Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

An Orang Utan in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

An Orang Utan at Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

I have stacks of recipes to share with you all, and was in the midst of writing one up for you, when I thought: no, I really don’t want to do that right now. What I have to do is share some pictures from Sabah with you first. It is a wonderful place, and while I am here I am keen to share it with you.

Sabah is in Malaysian Borneo. A tropical part of the world, it has sea and rainforest, monkeys and bears, and lots of fantastic food, particularly seafood. I have been busy since my arrival, that won’t surprise you much, and have seen and eaten lots. The food has been wonderful, as good as I had been told, but I would be telling a lie if I didn’t tell you that it was the wildlife that stole my heart.

Oran utangs (translates as man of the jungle), proboscis monkeys (so called because of their massive nose, they are also called belanda, Malay for Dutchman, as it was thought that the Dutch colonisers had similar large bellies and noses) and cheeky little macaques (which were rifling through the rubbish and stealing eggs at breakfast this morning) featured but there was much more.

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A proboscis monkey! Native to Borneo. Curious and divine. Bigger than you think too!

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Next Stop: Sabah & Brunei

What a week! A very good week, I spent the bulk of it at World Travel Market in London, where I met lots of inspiring people and spoke about food & travel blogging. 4 full days, and a blissful early night followed, so rare, and very much needed. I am shattered, but I have lots to do, for I am going to Sabah and Burnei on Sunday. And that is exciting, isn’t it?

Sabah is new to me, in Malaysian Borneo, and a whole new world of food is waiting to greet me. Many of you will know it already, and possibly have even been to a wedding there, as many people travel to marry on their tropical shores. We start in Kota Kinabulu, and explore Sabah from there. I will be doing lots, highlights among these being lots of terrific eating, a cooking class, visiting markets, heading into the jungle, and I am very excited that we are going to see some Orang Utans at the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre.


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Cardamom and Turmeric Chicken Curry

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Today has been stressful. Yesterday was worse. Because of stupid but unavoidable things, in isolation fine, together brain stuffing. Delayed planes, trains and automobiles (yes, all three), a broken front door, mysteriously vanished side gate, and lots of other dull stuff. My brain was starting to tense, my heart was pounding and I was being taken away by fury, a red mist.

What a bloody nightmare, eh? What to do? Sort the essentials, ignore the rest, withdraw from the world for a bit, and think of curry.

Chicken curry to be precise, I don’t think you can beat it if it is made right. A nice plump chicken from a happy home, whatever cut you fancy, or the lot. I bought a small bird, brought it home and removed it from the carcass, which I will use soon for stock along with the chicken skin and wings. I removed the leg, thigh and breast, the legs I kept whole, the rest I diced chunkily, and added all of the meat to a creamy turmeric bath. I love fresh turmeric, but dried will do, added to yogurt and chilli, the colour and the possibilities lifted my spirits. I put it in the fridge and let it rest.

After a couple of hours, and I was starting to feel better, I sautéed some finely chopped onion in some coconut oil (any oil will do, I had that). It soothed me to see it gently sink into the oil and release its own tension. I gave it time and cooked it gently, until soft. Then I added ginger, garlic, and more fresh chilli. I toasted some spice, cardamom seeds, cloves and black pepper. I ground them until a powder, and added them to my onion mix.

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Homemade Matcha Soba Noodles & A Recipe for Matcha Mari Soba

Matcha noodles! Well, why wouldn’t you make them? You surely want to try them. I had the good fortune of eating superb matcha soba when I was in Kyoto last year, and they pop up from my memory to say hi frequently. Sure, you can buy green tea / matcha noodles in speciality shops here, and they are decent, but they are not a patch on the real thing. Of course. But, then you hear that it takes 3 years to learn soba making, 32 years to perfect it (!) and that it is very tricky. But you know what, you still really want to give it a go. Right?

Right.

Let us get down to the details. There are two things that we need to think about here. Soba and matcha. Soba means buckwheat or buckwheat noodle in Japanese. Buckwheat isn’t actually a grain, it is a seed that is grain like, and is not related in anyway to grass, it is actually closely related to rhubarb and sorrel (both very characterful plants, as is buckwheat). It has no gluten, so it takes skill and knowledge, the kind of knowledge that lives in your muscles and your palms, after years of getting to understand soba dough, to get the buckwheat to combine so elegantly with water to form noodles. Not just any old noodles but noodles that you would get on a train across town for, maybe even to another city, maybe even on a plane to Japan.
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Rice Soup with Chorizo, Pumpkin, Kale & a Poached Egg

Chicken and ham broth with rice, pumpkin, chorizo, sage and a poached egg

Chicken and ham broth with rice, pumpkin, chorizo, sage and a poached egg

I don’t like telling you what to do, but on this occasion, I must. It is almost the weekend, and it is very much Autumn, so what I need you to do, is to go out and buy a couple of raw chicken carcasses (most butchers will have them, and failing that 500g chicken wings), some ham bones, if you can get them, or a ham hock. You see with these, and some veg, you can make a sublime broth which will keep you in gorgeous soups for the week, as I have done. I just needed soup and lots of it.

A home made broth is wonderful, far surpassing any commercial pretenders. Even those home made ones you see in shop fridges will not have been made with the love and care that yours can be made with at home. Love and care brings flavour, and health, and joy. I am insisting that you give this a go.

A good home made stock will have clear strong flavours, but it is gentle too, and only ever supports what you add to it, it never dominates. Shop bought stocks, especially the cubes, always do. It is an effort, but making a big batch when you have the time is very rewarding, the bulk of the work lies in waiting for it to be done.

There are many things you can do with this stock. A steaming mug of it on its own brings great pleasure and sustenance. With shredded chicken, leftover or not, some spring onions, some coriander and some chilli, you have a vigorous bright chicken soup, with a ham backbone. It also freezes well. [Read more]

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Making Fresh Gozitan Cheese with Rikardu in Gozo, Malta

Scenes from Gozo.

Gozo is the second of the three Maltese islands. When you consider that the smallest has only three (elderly) inhabitants, and that Gozo itself is only 8.7 x 4.5 miles, you might be surprised to learn that Gozo has a food culture all of its own. Best among this is the Gozitan fresh cheese, Ġbejniet. I made it my mission to meet a cheesemaker while I was on the island and explore this. The world is a smaller tighter place when you can get close to the origins of your food, and the people who make it.

Ġbejniet is made daily by small farmers (one I met, Victor, from the charming Dreams of Horses farm has just a few sheep and makes it daily). I managed to track down Rikardu, who has a farm with 200 sheep and goats which he milks by hand daily, and then makes fresh cheese with the milk while it is still warm. He sells the cheese in his restaurant Ta’ Rikardu, where you can have the fresh cheese (Ġbejniet) on its own, or a platter for two of fresh cheese, wind dried cheese and peppered cheese (at just €8.95). .

Rikardu, making his cheese.

Rikardu starts by adding rennet to the milk. The rennet which he uses now is a commercial product, however, before the tradition was to kill a suckling sheep and use the stomach (from which rennet is obtained) to set the cheese by letting it sit in the whey for 3 days. This whey would then be used for up to a few months. The milk, with rennet added, is allowed to sit until it sets, which takes about 20 minutes. Rikardu then pours it into individual moulds (little plastic baskets, really), which are allowed to drain for about 10 minutes, before each cheese is turned within gently, all by hand. The cheese is good to eat a few hours later, and for up to a couple of days. Rikardu showed me an original wicker mould too, but these are expensive now and also less practical when it comes to cleaning them.

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What to Eat in Madrid & Where to Eat It

Madrid is a serious food city. It is also a city that parties hard and keeps extremely late hours. I went to bed early each night over the weekend that I was there, at 3am. Woah, Madrid! Madrileños eat as they drink, and that eating is a serious business. Their expectations are high, and so they should be, quality abounds, and once you steer clear of the tourist joints, you will eat well.

This list is based on my last trip there, a week ago. It is well researched and sampled, but not exhaustive. Madrid is brilliant and exciting in that it has an enviable list of great places to eat. Which is why I plan to go back there as soon as I can manage it. For this trip, I asked the locals, as only people who live there can have the full breadth of experience required to pick a sample for a weekend.

Conspicuously absent on this list until my return is Callos Madrileños (Madrid style tripe), Cocido Madrileño (a heavy chickpea based stew) and DiverXO (Madrid’s exciting 3* restaurant). The first two seemed more wintry, so I decided to save them for a trip in a colder time, and DiverX0 needs very early booking and a day dedicated to it.

Eat Cochinillo (Suckling Pig) at Los Galayos & Santceloni

I enquired of a local, where should I eat suckling pig in Madrid? He replied, well of course I don’t eat it in Madrid, I head to the small villages in the Sierras where it is the best. I despaired a little, I didn’t have time to go to the Sierras. But, where should I eat it in Madrid? OK: Los Galayos is best, and that is where the locals go, was what he disclosed. There is also Botín, the oldest restaurant in the world (according to the Guinness Book of Records) and where Hemmingway is said to have eaten two suckling pigs with two bottles of rioja in one seating. It is supposed to be excellent, but it is firmly on the tourist map, so I chose the local alternative, which was just around the corner. The suckling pig (less than one month old) was tender and sublime, with a thin crisp crackling surfing a rich glorious fat. A large portion, it was very well priced at €21.75. At the other end of the scale, the suckling pig loin at two michelin starred Santceloni is steeper at €53, but it is excellently executed. It is served as racks of ribs and loin which are roasted to the point where the flesh is moist and luscious and there is a perfect crisp skin.

Eat Anything (Everything?) at StreetXo

StreetXo, the street food offering from DiverXO’s 3 star chef David Muñoz in El Corte Inglés, is one of the most exciting restaurants that I have eaten at this year. Creative and inspired, each dish was sharp, elegant and full of flavour. There is one u shaped counter around the open kitchen, with some stools. I chose to stand. I stood there for 3 hours, and ate as much as I could. No dish disappointed and there was lots of surprises.

David happened to be there on the night that I visited, and he said that the menu changes all the time, so while I can’t say for sure that these dishes will be on when you visit, try anything, and if the peking dumpling with pigs ear or the butter fish are on, dive in. I ate too much and had a few glasses of wine, and my bill was still less than €50. It opens at 8.30, and I arrived 5 minutes later. All the seats were gone, but I got a space at the counter. Anyone who arrived after had to wait, so do get there early. (Note: StreetXO relocates from El Corte Inglés to a bigger premises in Madrid in November).

Eat Churros & Porras with Coffee or Chocolate

I am sure you are all familiar with churros but when in Madrid you must also have the local version, porras. Porras translates as truncheon, and reflects the larger size, which is even better for absorbing what you dip it into. It is common in Spain to dip churros in hot thick chocolate, but in Madrid, locals prefer to dip it in coffee, which became my perfect regular breakfast while I was there. Seek out a Fabrica de Churros & Patatas Fritas, most neighbourhoods have them, and it is where locals go to buy fresh patatas fritas (crisps!), churros and porras. Chocolatería San Ginés, one of Madrid’s oldest cafés, is very popular with tourists but is still very good, and locals love it too. Go there to have them with chocolate.

Go to Madrid’s Markets

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A Day in Valletta, Malta: Breakfast, Lunch & Culture

I am reaching the end of a serious stint of work related travels, bouncing in and out of London and landing in Ireland, Malaysia, Portugal (travelling North to South), Madrid and now Malta. Malta is the perfect place to finish. Based on the sleepy island of Gozo (the locals pronounce it Goh-zoh, all slowly), the only thing that moves quickly here are the cats darting for your food, or me, darting for mine. Occasionally.

I have been really enjoying my gentle explorations. More on Gozo soon, for I am not finished here yet. Lets starts with Valletta. Yesterday, I headed for the Maltese metropolis, for a wander and bite to eat. Gozo locals think Malta quite intense and busy, and sure, by Gozo standards this is so. For me, it was dreamy and peaceful. Valletta is not an excessively large city, but there is much to see.

The entirety of Valletta, is protected by UNESCO, and it is so pretty. Lofty limestone houses with windows jutting out, just to see what you are doing below. Painted to match the limestone, occasionally green, pops of red and some blue. At times, these seem to reach to each other across narrow alleys that stretch to the sea, never reaching, always hoping, always calm. Lots of steps, some hills, gorgeous parks like the Lower Barrakka Gardens, overlooking the sea, complete with a folly of a neoclassical temple within. There are lots of churches, standing proud, and St John’s Cathedral, boasting the work of the Knights of St John, including some by one of their most famous members, Caravaggio (who was eventually defrocked). The water surrounding the walled city of Valletta, in the sun an electric blue, gives Malta a sometimes surreal feel as it slinks against the city walls.

I start with a wander, as I always do, and I have a list, but I only have a day here, so I have to choose. I start with breakfast at Prego, an old Maltese café, with some of the best pastizzi in town, crisp flaky pastry, almond shaped and filled with fluffy ricotta which peeps out to say hello. I also tried a qassat, taller and plump with split peas, made of a shorter thicker pastry with a lid on top (nice but more appropriate for a heavier day, I think).


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Greetings from Gozo, Malta

Greetings from Gozo! A small island, just under 9 x 4.5 miles,  and part of the Maltese archipelago, I am based here for 5 days exploring the island, and a little of Malta too. I have just arrived, the photos above are from my (25 minute) ferry journey from Malta. Gorgeous, isn’t it?

Despite its size, Gozo is the second largest island of the Maltese archipelago, and it has much to explore. Gorgeous scenery, those azure waters, and hillside villages. Lots of fish and rabbit on the food front, pastries like pastizzi, mahi mahi pie, and that is just the tip of it. The locals are very keen to tell me it is Winter, but it is 26 degrees C and I am toasty warm. After spending a day in London battling the rain, it is a lovely change.

You can follow my adventures on twitter and also those of my travelling companions, who are all bloggers but maybe are not so food obsessed. What?! I know. Check in on the #MaltaIsMore hashtag on twitter, instagram and facebook.

Tips are welcome, as always! Thanks.

I am visiting Malta for Blog Island, created and sponsored by Malta Tourism Authority in partnership with iambassador. All editorial is my own, as always.