Truth compels us to assert our conviction of the superior wholesomeness of bread made in our own homes - Eliza Acton

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Sunday 31st July

tea sorbet

Here's my attempt at cooking with tea for this month's Is My Blog Burning?, hosted by à la cuisine. I don't have much experience of cooking with tea, and I suspect our friends across the pond are further advanced than we are: I've certainly found more suggestions online than in books and magazines here in the UK. Still, like any Brit, I'm fond of a nice cuppa, so I'm all for it. To see how I got on with tea as dessert (I'm a long way from tea as anything else, though I'm looking forward to being inspired by the IMBB entries) I decided to keep it pure and make a sorbet. I used a tea I'm particularly fond of, and this will shock the purists I'm sure, but it's called promenade des anglais and the only way I can describe it is to say that it smells and tastes like a rich, boozy fruitcake. The recipe is very simple (and in US measurements to prove my earlier point): 3 cups water, 2tbs tea leaves, 3/4 cup sugar. Boil the water, add the tea and brew for five minutes. Add the sugar and stir until it dissolves. Strain and cool. Freeze - either in an ice-cream maker or in the freezer, in which case you will need to break up the ice crystals after three or four hours with a fork or hand-held blender.

I found this sorbet very strong. The fruity flavours I love came through, but also a lot of strong tea - which I suppose is the idea, but it was rather tannic for me to eat very much of it. I drink my tea rather weak and milky, and this was just too Builder's. It might work if served with a fruit sorbet, or with an ice-cream. Even a dollop of whipped cream would take the edge off - so I will be matchmaking with what's left until I find just the right partner!

Friday 29th July

zuma bar

Not all tapas are equal. This little bar (its name is 'zuga', or frog) has found its way into the local tourist office's 'gastromap' of town for its avant garde tapas. Well, who knows how impartial the publication is, but with this one it was spot on. Once we found it we just couldn't tear ourselves away - just stood at the bar, tapping our feet to the cheesy Spanish versions of nineties pop songs and craning to see into the kitchen, from where the chef produced a new plate of delights every few minutes. You really have to drink a glass per tapa, so let me see if I can remember everything we ate... each of these was a little canapé of bread, piled high with yummy stuff, and the combinations of flavours might not seem avant garde as such - it's hardly snail porridge - but they were a lot more considered than any of the other tapas we saw. Some of these combinations are amazingly good. The basic pattern is either something flat, or something spreadable, topped with something stronger flavoured:

  • mayonnaise mixed with shreds of serrano ham, topped with slices of hot morcilla sausage
  • soft grilled piquillo pepper topped with a chunk of cod
  • mayonnaise mixed with finely sliced raw leek and some crisp bacon, topped with a marinated anchovy
  • a beautifully marbled slice of serrano ham, topped with slices of apple, topped with a strong but creamy blue cheese
  • more of the ham mayonnaise, with some onion, topped with a round of goat's cheese
  • mayonnaise again, this time with tuna and capers, topped with a slice of air-dried tuna

Thursday 28th July


We did have 'proper' dinners a few times - especially on picnic days - but often the evening passed in a blur of bars, with a glass of wine and a tapas at each. In this way we found the aforementioned calamares and salt cod croquettes, and many more, most of them fishy or deep fried or both. The best were just excellent ingredients, simply cooked. Like prawns - in our eagerness to get at the sweet pink meat, we were fumbling with them so much that we must have looked like complete tourists, because the owner came out and seized one from me to show me how it was done! Another day we had delicious grilled green pimentos - they often came stuffed (either with salt cod, crab or cheese) but these were plain and simple and all the better for it. A final favourite, in a slightly different style, was a dish of lovely greasy pork meatballs, which we shared standing up at the counter of a loud and bustling bar with pictures of the local pelota teams on the walls. The wine was rough and the bread rougher - but dipping it in the oily, peppery juices and catching the eye of the frantic but friendly barman, I felt just a little bit less like a gawky tourist. And the steps? That's what we climbed every night to get back to our hotel - three hundred and forty-five of them. And that's why I didn't feel as bad as I should have done about soaking up every last drop of grease.

Wednesday 27th July


Spain is full of lovely places for a picnic. One of my very favourite ways to spend a morning went like this: wake late, amble down to the covered market - an amazing art deco building on the riverfront - stopping at a random bar en route for coffee and a slice of tortilla. Stroll around the market admiring the strange dead things on the butchers' stalls and even stranger living things on the fishmongers'. Try to keep a few words of Spanish in your head whilst counting your euros and planning your feast - asking for what you want is the easy bit, with the help of a few phrasebook words, guesses (a bit of French, a bit of Latin, what more do you need?), gestures and smiles; understanding when the stallholder then helpfully replies in Spanish is harder. Um, did she ask which kind of chorizo I wanted, or whether I wanted it sliced? What does she mean she hasn't any cherries, I can see them right there! Ah, ok, I used the wrong word, the wrong pronunciation, the wrong number - no, stop, not a whole kilo! But we muddle through and come out with a bulging bag. Then trek off to find The Spot... maybe we'll take a train to the beach, or take the funicular to the hill overlooking the city. If C has his way, we'll climb every mountain before I find my dream.

Eventually we'll collapse onto the bit of African cloth that expands miraculously from my bag, brush the sand/grass off everything and tuck in. We'll have some crusty bread; perhaps a chunk of hard, salty Idiazabal cheese, or else some scraps of luscious serrano ham (maybe even pata negra - and yes, call me materialistic, but it tastes twice as good when I know it would have cost a week's wages in an English food hall). Then cherries, or strawberries, or best of all drippingly ripe nectarines; and maybe - if we've really exerted ourselves - an abstemious square or two of chocolate or turrón, either one stuffed with sweet marconas almonds. These are not the picnics of my childhood, with ice packs, butter knives and paper napkins: the water is warm, the chocolate melting. We tear wrapping open with our teeth, break off hunks of cheese with our hands, let nectarine juice run stickily down our chins and make a thorough mess. Maybe we'll grow out of it. I hope not.

Tuesday 26th July

san sebastian

It's so often true that the best food is found at the least conspicuous establishments. Then again, San Sebastian is known to be something of a gastronomic capital - it has more Michelin stars per capita than Paris, London, or indeed Bray, and a huge culture of quality and innovation in home cooking, too. So perhaps we'd have been as well fed wherever we chose. With only one day to explore, a bus to catch well before any self-respecting Basque would think of eating dinner, and a very unprofessional lack of research, we dived into a tiny, dingy restaurant with a cheap menu del día in order to fortify ourselves before hitting the beach. We found a welcoming hostess, a quaffable bottle of wine, and some perfectly cooked basics: the meatiest bean and chorizo stew; crispy-skinned, tender fried cod; sweet and cheesy stuffed pimentos and a deliciously cinnamony arroz con leche. They let us linger over the dregs of the bottle; the eleven euro set menu included three courses, bread and water; and at the next table a local gentleman demonstrated what we had hardly believed from the guidebook - that the civilised way to end a weekday lunch is with 'un completo' - coffee, cigar and very generous measure of cognac.

Monday 25th July


You know, I reckon I'm one of the easy ones. It doesn't take much. Not for me the idle caviar-stuffed luxury of the many-starred cruise. I wouldn't say no, of course, if offered a holiday including the sort of dinners that are worth a detour. But sit me on the terrace of an ordinary little café on a square in the prettier part of a coastal town, bring me a two euro glass of cold white wine and a plate of something fishy and deep fried, and you've got me. Should that something be tiny, tender squid - wiggly legs still attached for the greatest possible surface area - appropriately salted and be-lemoned - they might just be gone before you can get the camera out, though I am forced to admit that salt cod croquettes have been known to have a similar effect. If you bear in mind that I'm leaving a great deal unsaid about the excellence of my companion, this seems to me like a sure formula for contentment.

Sunday 24th July

puppy cafe

Sorry for the long silence. We've been in Spain, and before that we bought a house (baffling business that, far from over yet - I predict that the process will continue to require plates and plates of comforting stuff-on-toast), and then of course, as many of my near-neighbour blogs ( Cooksister, Passionate Cook) have pointed out, recent events in London were enough to put the most dedicated blogger off her food. But I'm here now, sat at the table with my fork at the ready, and I'll start with some happy memories of a very sunny and tapastastic week in northern Spain. Here are some pictures of Bilbao to get you in the mood - pretty representative of two of our main holiday pastimes...

Wednesday 6th July


Pertelote, as you may know, is a character in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. My association with her is a long story, but when Cook Sister announced the theme for the latest in her fabulous series of End of the Month Egg on Toast Extravaganzas (the antidote to foodblog memes, if you like), I knew it was time to live up to the name. Voilà:

EoMEoTE #8 - the Drama Queen Edition (with apologies to Chaucer)

Well know you on the internet they say
When there no farthing left is of your pay
At monthes end, and all your shelves bare
Of food as any friar's head of hair -
Then since you have no meat, nor cannot beg,
For supper take some toast, and with it egg.

A good wife there was of Stratford atte Bow
That to a weblog hadde long y-go.
And trowed she this same custom full yore
And so to London town from Suffolk bore
a dainty that they smoke on that cold coast -
the roe of cod, and spreade it on toast.

A wastel soda farl she toasted first
And on it spread the roe as thick she durst
One egge, then another, poached she
So that the yolkes soft and gold might be,
Then laid them both atop that ilke roe -
As pearles on red silke did they glow.

So eggs on toaste had she then that night
And that doth any hearte make light.
So changeth you your meat and your soupere,
To suit the sundry seasons of the year,
But when you have no farthing left to spend,
Forget not eggs on toast at monthes end.

Sunday 3rd July


After many attempts, we got C's old school friends together over a summery vegetarian dinner. We started with fried halloumi (which is made with vegetarian rennet and so suitable for all but vegans) with roasted peppers. Main was an aubergine kibbeh - adapted from a Claudia Roden recipe, with a sweet golden layer of onions and pine nuts over the aubergine (in place of the usual minced lamb) and bulgur wheat. With that I served a tomato salad, very simply dressed with olive oil, wine vinegar and finely chopped spring onion, and some courgettes sautéed with lemon juice and lots of fresh mint. Finally a terrine? parfait? A big block of frozen cream, anyway... made with strawberries, white chocolate and coconut cream, and served with more strawberries macerated in rum. VERY delicious, though hard to tell if the texture was exactly right - it seemed to go from rock-hard to liquid without anything in between. Still, very seasonal and reasonably light, as my desserts go.


Aubergine kibbeh

150g bulgur wheat
800ml vegetable stock
2 aubergines, diced
1/2 tsp dried chilli
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground cumin
4 onions, sliced thinly
50g pine nuts
tsp pomegranate molasses

Put bulgur wheat in a bowl, pour hot stock over and cover. Leave for 20-30 minutes until water is absorbed and wheat is soft. Fork through to fluff up and press into the bottom of a serving dish.

Fry the aubergine in plenty of olive oil until tender and browned. Add chilli, cinnamon, cumin. Season and layer over the bulgur wheat.

Fry onions very gently in olive oil. Give them ten to fifteen minutes to get soft and golden. Add pine nuts and molasses and stir well. Spoon this mixture over the aubergine and cover with foil. Bake for 20 minutes at 180.