Tag Archives: spring

15 on Orange Blossom and Strawberry Custard Slices

22 May

Following on from yesterday’s post about inspiration and where I get my ideas from, this recipe illustrates perfectly the combination of factors that come together to create something nice to eat. Because that is what we are talking about here. Food that you (and I) want to eat. And you want to eat these, I can tell. You’re dribbling.

Strawberries are at the peak of their season here at the moment, so they are cheap and bursting with flavour. Well these ones are anyway, so they need to star in a recipe.

Every morning for the past month or so I have been running with the dog surrounded by the intoxicating scent of orange blossom. I know, I’m lucky. It is such a beautiful smell that hits you as soon as you walk out of the front door. Well I do live in Andalucia. Anyway the past couple of days it has been noticeable in its absence. We are coming to the end of the orange blossom season and I realised that I haven’t used its aromatic orange blossom water in a recipe this year.

On our last day in Cape Town we went for Sunday lunch at the 15 on Orange Hotel. Every Sunday they have a buffet lunch for 265 Rand that includes endless bubbly. Yes, endless bubbly. Are you mad? Have you met my Dad? And me come to that if you’re talking about bubbly. It’s not cheap stuff either, we really enjoyed quite a few glasses of the Graham Beck Brut Rose.

The hotel is elegant, modern, luxury designer chic . An enormous Murano glass chandelier with a staircase inside leading to a private lounge dominates the luxurious bar area. The lighting is actually really impressive throughout the hotel.

Now when you talk about buffets in hotels what springs to my mind is elbowing your way around a table filled with wilting salad, crusty under the lights sandwiches, dried up slices of meat hidden by a slimy gravy and suspect piles of defrosted prawns. Not my thing, at all. This couldn’t be more different. The restaurant is bright, modern and in no way does it smell of boiled meat.

The standard of the food is unbelievable. It’s the best looking buffet I’ve ever seen.  Beautiful feta salads, mozzarella & tomato Caprese with basil pesto, roasted vegetable terrine, beetroot tian, a cheese selection with chutneys. That’s just the veggie starters by the way. For main course I had an excellent Eggplant Parmigiana but it was the desserts that impressed me the most.

The selection was mind-blowing. Chocolate cherry tortes, blueberries & cream violet syrup shots, cape gooseberry madeleines.

A cake stand full of chewy meringues, chocolate or caramel & cinnamon, white chocolate sacher torte, and enormous pink marshmallows. The keep bringing out new things too. It’s amazing.

It is seriously worth coming here just for the desserts and bubbly. You want to try them all because they look so good. They are all quite dainty so you don’t feel like such a pig for eating more than one. I had the cinnamon caramel meringue, the chocolate cherry torte and one of these strawberry custard slices.

So when I got home and strawberries came into season here, I started badgering them for the recipe. And here it is. The only thing did differently was add some orange blossom water to my custard. I cut my puff pastry into fairly small rectangles 3 x 9 cm so they are quite ladylike and afternoon tea-ish. You can make yours bigger if you like.

Strawberry & Orange Blossom Custard Slice

Makes 30 -36 3 x 9cm slices. Adapted from the 15 on Orange recipe

Remember to defrost the puff pastry in the fridge overnight before you need it.

Prep time: 15 mins Cooking Time: 10-15 mins Assembly time: 15 mins

  • 1 block/roll puff pastry (defrosted in the fridge overnight)
  • about 500 gr fresh strawberries
  • 2 or 3 tbsp clear seedless fruit jam/jelly for glazing (I used apricot)
  • 1 or 2 tbsp water

For the Creme Patissiere (custard or pastry cream)

  • 200 ml milk
  • 55 gr sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 25 gr cornflour/cornstarch
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1+1/2 tsp orange blossom water (or to taste)
  • 1 or 2 tbsp milk to finish

Preheat the oven to 190 C and line a baking sheet with baking paper.

On a floured board, roll out the pastry to a large rectangle about 2 mm thick and trim the edges so they are straight. My rectangle was 27 x 36 cm so I cut it into 36 mini rectangles 3 x 9 cm. (9 columns 4 rows). But you can cut them whatever size you like.  Put them on the lined baking sheet, dock them well with a fork (this stops them rising too much) and put them in the freezer for 5 minutes.

Bake  for 10 to 15 minutes until puffed, golden and cooked all the way through. Some will rise a bit wonky or too much but you can ignore those there’s still loads left. Leave to cool on a wire rack. Meanwhile make the creme patissiere.

Carefully bring the milk to the boil with the vanilla extract and orange blossom water, then turn it off before it boils properly.

Meanwhile whisk the yolks with the sieved cornflour and sugar to a smooth paste. Add a splash of the hot milk to the egg mixture and whisk to loosen. Add this back into the pan on a medium high heat and whisk continuously until it starts to thicken. Remove from the heat when it is thick and taste it. If it still tastes of flour or needs loosening up add a splash of milk, return to heat and whisk it in. When it is ready cover the top of the custard directly with cling film to stop a skin forming.

Hull the strawberries by pulling out the green stalks and removing the stalk area with a small knife. Thinly slice them from top to bottom.

To assemble: pipe  or spoon a small amount of creme patissiere along the pastry rectangles from front to back. Then top with three (or more if bigger rectangles) slices of strawberry, start at the back and position the pointy end up.

To glaze: heat the jam/jelly in a small pan with the water until it is a liquid. Brush the glaze over the positioned strawberries.

You will now realise that you have quite a few custard slices. Obviously you will have to eat a few just to see how they taste but beware, they are addictive. My suggestion is to do what I did and donate them to friends (thanks Rhian & Jeanne) because they will love them and so will their husbands.

And you won’t end up the size of a house and blame it all on me. Hopefully.

For more information about 15 on Orange Hotel and their menus visit their website here.

Chocolate and Lavender Easter Cupcakes

3 Apr

Lavender is the colour of the moment. Everywhere I look when we are out walking the dog I see wild lavender growing out of rocks.

Or the beautiful wisteria that has decided to bloom all at once. Just in time for Easter.

I wanted to make something sweet for Easter and that for me that means chocolate. I had an idea in my head of chocolate cupcakes with chocolate frosting, sprinkled with crumbled up Flake (to look like a nest) and little mini eggs inside the nest.

The thing is that tidy, delicate and uniform is not my forte. Also, if it doesn’t work the first time, it’s never going to happen. So when my first attempt at a mini egg chocolate flake nest looked like a six year old had been let loose in the chocolate cupboard, I actually considered inventing some children and blaming them.

Already bored of the chocolate nest idea I started playing around with the icing and some of the lavender I had picked that morning. It turns out that the lavender ones looked the best, so I spent the next few minutes picking out all of the lavender coloured mini eggs. I don’t know what happened to the other colours, must of been those pesky kids again…

These cupcakes are actually vegan and made with spelt flour. The frosting is also vegan, made with an olive oil spread instead of butter which is why it is a bit softer than proper buttercream icing. As I didn’t know beforehand that I was making lavender chocolate cupcakes I didn’t add any lavender to the cake mix. I have added it into the recipe below but it is up to you whether you do or not.

Chocolate Lavender Easter Cupcakes

Makes 10-12, vegan (without toppings), wheat-free. Adapted fron Oh She Glows

Prep time: 10 mins Cooking time: 25 mins

  • 1 cup oat milk (or any non dairy milk)
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup sugar (raw cane if possible)
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups spelt (or wholemeal) flour
  • 1/3 cup pure cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1-2 tsp dried edible lavender (optional)

Preheat the oven to 170 C and line a cupcake tin with cupcake liners.

In a large bowl, beat together the  milk, vinegar, sugar, oil and vanilla with an electric whisk/mixer for a minute ot two.

Sieve the dry ingredients (except the lavender) into the wet and stir well to get rid of any lumps. Then stir through the lavender.

Transfer the mix to a jug and pour it into the cupcake liners about two thirds to three quarters full for each. Bake for about 25 minutes until the top springs back slowly when pressed with a finger. Transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely before adding the frosting.

Vegan Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

  • 6 tbsp olive oil spread (or equivalent)
  • 3/4 cup pure cocoa powder
  • 2+2/3 cups icing sugar
  • 1/3 cup oat milk (or other non dairy milk)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Cream the spread and vanilla together with an electric whisk until light and fluffy. Add 2 tbsp of the milk and whisk again.

Alternate adding the sugar, cocoa and milk a bit at a time until it is all mixed. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to get all of it combined well.

Store in the fridge until ready to use. Don’t start icing until the cupcakes are completely cool. Use a palette knife or piping bag to ice the cakes and decorate as you wish.

If it stops raining long enough I should be able to get about and photograph some of the spectacular processions and plays that take place here for Semana Santa. I remember saying the same thing last year and there was a huge electrical storm which blew up my modem and motherboard as well as cancelling all the processions and the crucifixion.

So, fingers crossed!

Happy Easter everyone!!

Green Vegetable Minestrone with Toasted Pine Nuts

4 May

May Day here is known as Dia de la Cruz “Day of the Cross”. It is also Dia de los Verdes “Day of the Greens”. In Alhaurin there are two main churches known as The Greens & The Purples (the colours of the Andalucian flag). For the whole long weekend and Tuesday the Green Church known asVera Cruz have processions, marching bands and let off rockets very early in the morning and very late at night.

Thankfully it stopped raining long enough to get out and take some photos this week.

I can’t pretend to know what it’s all about but they seem to enjoy it and it brings the community (well one half of it anyway) together. Rows of different types of chairs are tied together all along the procession route so no one can steal a precious front row seat.

After the processions everyone congregates at the church.

Everyone is wearing green. Purple is a definite faux-pas. Unless you are our friend Miguel, who was over from England with his girlfriend Lindsey for the Bank Holiday. He decide to rock it in lilac jeans, despite all the funny looks, classic Miguel, hilarious….!!

So in keeping with this green weekend and to atone slightly for the purple jeans incident I have made a Green Vegetable Minestrone. This is my favourite soup that we served at the restaurant. I got it from a Cape Town cookbook my Dad gave to me. It is really fresh tasting and more Springy than a classic Minestrone. You can use whatever green veg you like just make sure you give it loads of fresh basil…

I kept it vegan & gluten-free by using rice vermicelli. You can use any pasta you like but keep it tiny. Freshly shaved parmesan on top is the authentic addition that I replaced with toasted pine nuts. Either way it’s a deliciously healthy bowl of goodness that leaves you feeling all virtuous inside…

Green Vegetable Minestrone with Toasted Pine Nuts

serves 6 , vegan, gluten-free. Adapted from Cape Town Food by Phillippa Cheifitz

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 big Spanish spring onion (or 4 or 5 scallions)
  • 1 leek, halved lengthways, rinsed & finely sliced
  • 2 stalks celery, finely sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • a handful of fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 small cabbage, cored & finely shredded
  • 125 gr green beans, 2 cm diagonal slices
  • 1 courgette, diced
  •  bundle of asparagus, woody ends snapped off, 2cm diagonal slices
  • 100 gr frozen peas
  • 50 gr rice vermicelli (or other tiny pasta) 
  • 150 gr rocket (or spinach/watercress)
  • 1+ 1/2 litres veg stock
  • salt & black pepper
  • a big bunch of basil, leaves torn or sliced when served
  • 25 gr pine nuts, toasted in a dry pan
  • extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
  • shaved parmesan (unless vegan)

Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over a medium heat, add in the spring onions, leeks & celery with a pinch of salt and cook until starting to soften about 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic & parsley and cook for another minute or two.

Add in the cabbage and cook gently for about 10 minutes (you don’t want it to brown) add a splash of stock if dry. Then add in the rest of the vegetables, except the rocket and basil, and cook for another 5 minutes. Season well with salt & black pepper, pour over the stock, bring to the boil, cover, lower the heat & simmer for about 25 minutes.

Stir in the pasta and rocket and cook until tender about 5 minutes. Check seasoning and add more stock if you want it more soupy than stewy.

Ladle into warm bowls and sprinkle over lots of freshly torn basil, the toasted pine nuts and shaved parmesan (if using). Finish with a drizzle of extra virgin.

I think Los Verdes would approve don’t you?

Asparagus and Spring Garlic Custard Tart

5 Apr

These pretty little hairy bulbs are spring garlic. Also known as young garlic, green garlic or garlic shoots. They look a lot like spring onions but have a sweet, mild, fresh garlicky flavour. They can be used in place of garlic in any dish and because they have a more delicate flavour can also be used raw in salads as you would a spring onion. In Spain they are called ajos tiernos or ajetes and are used frequently in cooking. One of the most popular dishes is revuelto de ajos tiernos which is eggs scrambled with spring garlic.

This is actually a combination of two recipes put together. The first for an Asparagus Tart from The Art of the Tart and the second for Wild Garlic Custards with Cheddar & Mustard Straws from Terre a Terre. I changed the puff pastry cheese straws for a puff pastry tart and mixed the asparagus into the garlic custard. I wanted a savoury version of a Portuguese Custard Tart type thing.

If I was to do it again I would probably use a blind baked short crust pastry case instead of puff as the base of my tart was undercooked even though I part baked the tart shell before filling it with the custard. Either that or part bake it for longer, say 15- 20 minutes instead of the 10 minutes I gave it. If you are buying a part baked tart case you can miss out the mustard seeds & grated cheese as I don’t think they will stick to the cooked pastry.

Asparagus & Spring Garlic Custard Tart Recipe

serves 4-6, vegetarian

  • a 9 or 10 inch shortcrust pastry case (bought or homemade)
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds (optional)
  • a sprinkling of grated manchego, cheddar or parmesan (optional)
  • 1 egg, beaten with a little milk
  • 50 gr spring garlic, finely chopped
  • a handful of chives, finely chopped
  • 50 ml whole milk. I used goat’s milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 150-200 gr cream cheese (depending on the depth of your tart)
  • salt & black pepper
  • freshly grated nutmeg
  • a bundle of asparagus, snapped and woody ends removed
  • a handful of grated manchego, cheddar or parmesan

Preheat the oven to 200 C. If you have made your own pastry case, bake the pastry blind (by putting some greaseproof paper in the case and filling it with a layer of dried beans) for 15 minutes. Then remove the beans & paper and brush the base with the egg wash and sprinkle over the mustard seeds, grated cheese. Prick all over the base with a fork and return to the oven for 5 minutes. Remove the pastry case from the oven to cool and turn the oven down to 180 C.

Cook the asparagus in salted boiling water for 3 minutes, drain, run under cold water and set aside to cool. Put the finely chopped spring garlic, chives and milk in a bowl or food processor and blend on high until smooth.  Mix the eggs & egg yolks with a fork and stir them into the cream cheese, then add the garlicky milk mix and beat together until smooth. Season with salt, pepper and a little grated nutmeg.

Spoon or tong the cooked asparagus into the tart case evenly then pour over the garlic custard. Sprinkle over a little grated cheese and cook for 25 – 30 minutes until just set and slightly browned. Leave to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Serve with a green salad for lunch or with some buttery baby new potatoes for a more substantial dinner. Garnish with some more chopped chives and enjoy this celebration of spring flavours!!

Spring Lettuce, Pea and Mint Soup

31 Mar

I see these beautiful lettuces every day and take photos of them because I love the neat and tidy rows and the way they kind of look like big green roses. Sort of…

I wanted a recipe using lettuces for something other than a salad to test their versatility. I’ve heard of lettuce soup but never tried it so I had no idea how it would taste. It seems an odd thing, to cook a lettuce but together with the peas and fresh mint it makes a really fresh springy soup perfect for this time of year when the weather really can’t make up it’s mind.

It has the lightness of a salad but with the warmth of a soup.  The spring fresh flavours are a taster of what’s just around the corner if you are suffering with the weather where you are. This soup really brightens your day, and it’s healthy too.

Cos (or Romaine) lettuce contains more beta carotene and iron than most other lettuces and peas are rich in fibre, iron & vitamin C. Add to that the fact that mint is an excellent aid to digestion and you have the perfect meal in a bowl.

 And it tastes great too…

Lettuce, Pea & Mint Soup

serves 4 – 6, vegetarian or vegan, without yoghurt swirl

  • 2 tbsp olive oil (or butter)
  • 1 leek, sliced in half lengthways, rinsed & sliced finely
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 small Cos/Romaine lettuce, cored & shredded
  • 45o gr frozen peas
  • 750 ml + veg stock
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • a pinch of sugar
  • 3 or 4 sprigs fresh mint leaves, chopped. Keep the stalks.
  • a small handful of fresh parsley, chopped
  • creme fraiche or greek yoghurt for swirling (optional)
  • mint tops for garnish

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Sweat leeks & shallot for 3 or 4 minutes until softened but not browned. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.  Add in the peas, lettuce, mint stalks (tied together in a knot so they are easier to fish out later), 750 ml veg stock, salt, pepper & sugar.

Bring to a boil and then simmer, uncovered for 6 -8 minutes or until the peas are tender. Take out the mint stalks, add in the parsley and mint leaves and remove from the heat.

Blend carefully with a stick blender for 2 or 3 minutes until very smooth. Add more veg stock to get required consistency if necessary, check the seasoning and reheat to serve. Serve in warmed bowls garnished with a swirl of creme fraiche and the mint tops.

If Spring is not happening where you are then bring it yourself with this bowl of soup. I’ll leave you with some more images of the beautiful Spring in Andalucia that I have taken this week while walking the dog….

Disfruta de la Naturaleza!!

The First Days of Spring: Grilled Asparagus and Soft Boiled Duck Egg Brunch

22 Mar



Nothing says “Spring” more to me than asparagus. The fresh green spears make an appearance a lot earlier here in Spain than in the UK but I still wait until Spring to buy them.  I bought some this week for the first time this year and wanted the first of many asparagus dishes to be a simple celebration of this unique, delicious vegetable.

The Washer Up is working with someone who keeps ducks & chickens at the moment and he, very kindly, gave us some duck eggs to try. I have eaten a duck egg once before, it was on top of a salad I ordered in the restaurant in Harvey Nichols in Leeds (those were the days)!  They have a slightly richer, creamier flavour than a normal egg but nothing to be scared off.  I’ve never cooked with duck eggs before so I thought a simple soft-boiled duck egg would sit very happily on top of my grilled asparagus.  Eggs also represent Spring, rebirth and new beginnings so perfect for my first days of Spring brunch.

I really can’t call this a recipe but here is what I did:

Soft Boiled Duck Egg & Grilled Asparagus Brunch

serves 1, vegetarian

  • 1 bundle of fresh asparagus
  • 1 duck egg
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • lemon juice
  • salt & pepper
  • shaved manchego or parmesan
  • toasted brown bread (if you like)

Carefully put the duck egg into boiling water and then turn the heat down to medium high. Boil for 6 or 7 minutes depending on the size of your duck egg. Cut off the woody ends of the asparagus and put into the boiling water with the egg for 2 or 3 minutes.

Preheat your grill to hot and place the blanched asparagus on a sheet, drizzle with olive oil, salt & pepper, roll to coat evenly then put under the grill for a few minutes to brown slightly. Rolling to cook the other side half way through.

Toast your bread if using. After 6 or 7 minutes drain the water out of the pan and run the cold tap over the egg in the pan until cool enough to handle. Roll the egg gently on your counter to break the shell and peel the egg.

Transfer the asparagus to a plate with a slotted spoon, drizzle with little more olive oil, squeeze over some lemon juice and place the egg on top. With a knife cut into your egg to reveal the soft centre, season the egg with salt &  pepper and then finish off the dish by shaving over some manchego or parmesan. Butter your toast and serve on the side.

Enjoy the first days of Spring in pictures taken while walking the dog…

Rufus in the Spring…!!

Our lily at home….

 Ya es Primavera!!

Fennel and Orange Risotto with spring onion, goat’s ricotta and chilli

8 Mar

The fennel plant we are growing in a pot on our roof terrace is ready to harvest. Is ready the right word? I’m not sure.

Some of the spring onions are looking good too. Spring onions (cebolletas) in Spain are huge. They are completely different to the spring onions/scallions you get in the UK or US. So when I say use 1 spring onion it’s probably equivalent to 4 or 5 scallions.

I have been looking for suitable fennel recipes for a while now. Something to really showcase our first and only fennel. It had to be something special.  The classic Fennel & Orange Salad sounded lovely and fresh but it is raining here at the moment so I didn’t really feel like a salad. I wanted something warm and comforting. I came across a recipe for Orzotto with Sausage, Fennel & Rosemary on The Culinary Taste. Orzotto is a barley risotto. This was exactly the kind of thing I had been looking for. Minus the sausage, obviously. Rita said she was inspired by a Jamie Oliver recipe for Fennel Risotto so I asked her what other ingredients he had added. His recipe was for Fennel Risotto with Ricotta & Dried Chilli.

Jamie’s recipe used the zest & juice of a lemon as well. This got me thinking back to the classic fennel & orange salad combo and I decided (living in Andalucia) to use orange instead of lemon and our beautiful spring onions were the natural substitute for normal onions.

local cheese producer makes a goat’s ricotta (requeson in Spanish) which I had been wanting to try for a while. So, I had all the ingredients for the perfect, seasonal, locally produced, homegrown dish. Exciting!

Fennel & Orange Risotto with Spring Onion, Goat’s Ricotta & Chilli

Serves 4 vegetarian. Adapted from a Jamie Oliver recipe

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter plus 1 tbsp for finishing
  • 1 fennel, finely chopped fronds reserved for garnish
  • 1 stick celery finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 large Spanish spring onion or 4 or 5 small, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • salt & black pepper
  • a splash of white wine/vermouth
  • about 300 gr risotto rice (I used brown)
  • about 1 litre of veg stock
  • about 1/4 tsp dried chilli flakes
  • 4 tbsp goats requeson (ricotta), normal ricotta or soft goat’s cheese
  • 1 orange, zested and juiced
  • about 50 gr grated parmesan

Put the veg stock in a small pan over a low heat. Heat the oil and 1 tbsp butter in a large pan over a medium heat and add the fennel seeds, spring onions, celery, and chopped fennel. Cook for a few minutes until softened and translucent then add in the garlic and cook for another minute. Add in the rice and stir to coat in the oil and butter. When the rice starts to turn translucent add in the wine and cook until it evaporates.

Add a ladle of the hot stock and season well with salt & black pepper. When all the liquid has been absorbed add another ladle of stock, stir or swirl the rice, wait for it to be absorbed and repeat until the rice is cooked. This should take about 18 minutes with white rice and longer with brown.

When the rice is cooked remove the pan from the heat, add the tbsp butter, parmesan, orange zest, half the orange juice and crumble over the ricotta. Stir, put the lid on and leave for 2 minutes.

Taste and add more orange juice if you think it needs it. Serve in warmed bowls garnished with a pinch of dried chilli flakes and the fennel fronds. Have a bowl of the ricotta and Parmesan on the table for people to help themselves to.

The flavour combination of the fennel and orange is really bright, slightly sweet & fresh. Together with the creaminess of the ricotta it is a deliciously rich dish, unusually reminiscent of a dessert in some ways. But don’t let that put you off. Serve it as a starter or lunch dish rather than a main course to people who appreciate different flavours and they will be left wanting more….

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